§ 11.6 a.m.
§ Mr. Edward J. Milne (Blyth)
I beg to move,That this House, noting the increasing power of the advertising industry, its influence upon our national life and its effect on our economy, calls upon Her Majesty's Government to institute an independent inquiry to consider whether safeguards are necessary in the interests of the consumer public.I do not think I need, either in this House or in the country, stress the importance and impact of advertising on our daily lives. I should declare a personal interest. I believe I am one of the few Members who is a working grocer and has actually been on both sides of the advertising business. I have also seen its impact as an official of the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers. For my credentials as a consumer, I need only say that, with a wife and three daughters—one aged 18 and twins aged 13—my buying experience is as extensive as my selling experience.
The terms of the Motion are not intended as an attack on advertising as such, because we appreciate that the provision of information about goods is a necessary part of modern society. As is often the case in debates like this, we have to go back some time to get a description of what is happening at the moment. I quote what Dr. Johnson said about advertising in 1780. It is a point even today. He said:Their promises were magnificent promises. Large promise is the soul of an advertisement.One is often accused, when dealing with advertising, of attempting to interfere with freedom. But we are no more interfering with freedom when asking for an inquiry into the industry than we are interfering with freedom if we ask for purification of our water supply and many other things that are so essential 800 to the life and well-being of the community.
I am pleased to see the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade in his place. The then Economic Secretary to the Treasury said this about advertising in 1954:… advertising is an integral part of the machinery of distribution, both at home and abroad. It should be regarded as a part of the machinery of distribution and not as a separate subject, entirely independent.There is, of course, good advertising and bad advertising."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd February, 1954; Vol. 523, c. 522.]Lord Heyworth, of Unilever, has also gone on record in support of our attitude to advertising. He said:Advertising must expect to be criticised. It is part of our daily life and because it is a very public act everyone is conscious of it. It is a matter of public interest and, as such, open to comment.We find support from surprising quarters for the inquiry to which the Motion refers. The Conservative Political Centre, in a report on consumer protection, made this striking point in its publication "Choice." It said:Choice inevitably introduces an element of doubt and confusion. None of this alters the fact that the advertising world should be kept under constant critical surveillance. Any group that seeks to mould public opinion needs watching:"—I want that point to be underlined in our discussions today—and in this case the watch should be particularly sharp because advertising revenues subsidise so much of our Press and television.When one reads an extract such as that, one realises the tremendous power which, outside the normal realms of advertising, can be exercised on the minds and opinions of the community.
I turn now to deal with expenditure on advertising. The Government keep telling us about our economic difficulties. They are asking workers in all sections of industry to halt their wage demands. Have we the right in these circumstances to ignore the properly balanced use of resources in a nation beset by these economic difficulties, and is not this one of the reasons why we need more information about advertising, the rôle it plays, and the many other factors which flow from what I have mentioned?
We are often told in defence of advertising that it helps to introduce new 801 products to the consumer, that it cheapens the price, and is therefore beneficial. As I said at the outset, no one minimises the importance of advertising, but the largest advertising budgets in Britain are not prepared for this purpose. They are generally the sinews of war in a battle between giant monopolies grappling for sales of similar or identical products, and in many cases firms compete with themselves in an endeavour to sell products which are very little different from another.
This has had an effect on the public, because when public opinion is sounded by Gallup polls or by other means it becomes obvious that people are uneasy about what the advertisers are really out to do. Shoppers Guide recently asked its members what they thought was the best means of securing some measure of consumer protection. Over 5,000 replies were received, and the overwhelming majority of the replies put at the top of the listtackle misleading and extravagant advertising claims.Two of the leading advertising agents in this country, Notley and Ogilvy, had this to say about advertising. Ogilvy said:Most copy is written below the average intelligence.Notley said:It is extraordinary how insincere and trivial a lot of forceful copy sounds when read aloud.The question of advertising in a free society is the argument which is very often bandied around in these circumstances, but a free society means that if manufacturers must be free to publicise their products—and no one denies that they should be—then consumers, acting either through private organisations or through their elected representatives along the lines of the inquiry for which we are asking, must also be free to take the necessary measures to help them to choose between the goods which are advertised.
This is where I sincerely believe public uneasiness arises with regard to advertising. I have given an indication of my contact with the distributive trades. People are not convinced, rightly or wrongly, that the advertisers are giving them a fair deal in the methods that they use. A columnist in the Daily 802 Herald a few months ago made this comment, which I think is a reasonable one, on what the man and woman in the street—and particularly the woman with the shopping basket—think about advertising. He said:I think we'd all like half-an-hour on the telly once a month in which experts would take a close and critical look at T.V. adverts and the goods they advertise.If handled by the Consumers Association, who suggest the idea, it would be presented fairly and with authority.It would be a public service. Wouldn't it? It would be a good thing to do. Well, I'll now give you 100–1 it won't be done. And if I am right you can draw your own conclusions.That is a fairly good summary of what the woman with the shopping basket thinks about advertising and the methods used.
In 1958 a distinguished guest went to a luncheon of the Advertising Association in London and said very much the same thing. He said to the assembled advertisers:I wonder whether the claim to wash whitest does the advertisers much good? It certainly confuses and may even annoy the housewife. I wonder too how much this sort of advertising really does to enlarge the market and reduce the price, which I believe to be one of the main essentials of good advertising today.He then appealed to the advertisers to tell customers what products are made of, and went on to say:Unless we are careful, technical development might create an almost unbridgeable gulf between the manufacturer's product and the customer's recognition of it.He appealed to advertisers and merchants to make clear what they were selling to the public and to indicate clearly the contents of the packages and bottles which they had handed over or had handed over for them by their shop assistants in the shops throughout the country.
At that luncheon there was another guest from an advertising club in Washington. He said to the other guests, "Perhaps if you knew what the contents were you would not buy them." I will reveal the name of that guest for the benefit of the Parliamentary Secretary. It is his present chief, the President of the Board of Trade. We can have no better source on the question of advertising than this, and I would ask for it to be hung up in the Department during the Minister's term of office.
803 I now move to the harmful effects of advertising. I believe that everyone in the country who has anything to do with youth work and youth activity and the future of our young people must be disturbed at the way in which in recent years the advertisers of alcohol have concentrated their attention on the very young, and at some of the very suggestive posters and advertising methods that have emerged from this source. I recollect that during the Summer Recess the firm of Guinness brought a travelling van into the market square of my constituency from which it distributed samples of its product. If there are to be licensing laws in the country—we are not dealing with that matter this morning—I think that they should specify that samples of articles of this kind ought to be distributed only on premises licensed for the purpose.
We have to look, as I say, at the harmful effects of this kind of advertising. That same firm recently sent the following letter to several thousands of doctors in all parts of Britain. It was signed by the managing director of the firm and ran as follows:
§ "Dear Sir,
§ We would be most grateful if you could spare the time to tell us your opinion of Guinness. It is now over six years since we asked doctors in Great Britain to let us have, in confidence, their experience in their practice of the use of Guinness. We received replies from over half the doctors telling us of conditions in which they found Guinness to be of benefit. Since then the numbers of the profession have considerably increased. We are accordingly writing again to all doctors asking them to give us, in strict confidence, their experience of Guinness under present-day conditions. We would be most grateful if you would let us have yours. Should you wish to try Guinness, either for yourself or for a patient, we would be glad to send one doz. bottles free of all charges. A card and reply paid envelope are enclosed for this purpose."
§ I do not think that at this point any comment is needed on that letter.
§ As I mentioned in my quotation from Dr. Johnson at the outset, advertising, of course, is not new.
§ Mr. Maurice Edelman (Coventry, North)
Would my hon. Friend perhaps mention the name of the managing director of the firm who signed that letter?
§ Mr. Milne
In view of the fact that the hon. Gentleman's remark was not addressed to me in the first instance, I do not see why I should give way at this stage. I may possibly do so a little later on.
Henry Sell wrote in the late 1880s a Dictionary of World Press and Philosophy of Advertising, and his philosophy was revealed in the following story. A prominent gentleman had his umbrella lifted in church one Sunday evening. He inserted the following advertisement in the local Press:Lost from the vestibule of x Church last Sunday evening a black silk umbrella. The gentleman who took it will be handsomely rewarded by leaving it at No. 10 High Street.That advertisement received no response at all. The gentleman in question discussed the matter with a business friend who said to him, "Your advertising methods are wrong. If you will allow me to put an advertisement in next week's paper I will have the umbrella back for you on the following morning."
In the next week's paper he inserted the following advertisement:If the man who was seen to take the umbrella from the vestibule of X church does not wish to get into trouble and have a stain cast upon his Christian character which he values so highly he will return it at once to No. 10 High Street. He is well known.The following morning the gentleman who had lost his umbrella had twelve umbrellas left in his porch and others scattered throughout the precincts of his house.
We are told that we must trust the public in this matter of advertising. I am, of course, in complete agreement with the purchasers on this issue. In a Gallup poll in 1958 the majority of shoppers thought expenditure on advertising to be excessive. If we take the 805 American figures we find that 86 per cent. of shoppers thought that it was dishonest. A private British survey on the matter revealed that only 11 per cent. of people questioned on the subject believed that celebrities portrayed in the advertisements themselves use the products which they recommend. That shows the uneasiness which permeates the industry on this matter.
In the detergent world we find words which mean very little but which make astounding claims indeed. We get, for instance, a special powder which is described as containing a new magic ingredient. When this ingredient is examined—I am not going to give any scientific names—it is found to be the same as that used in all the other synthetic detergents of that type. Another detergent is advertised as having a fabulous ingredient in it. This ingredient is easier to pronounce; it is "Fluorescor", which is also to be found in all the other detergents. Then we have another special ingredient—oxygen bubbles which ease out stains. This ingredient also is to be found in all the other washing powders.
A number of methods have been suggested and a number of ways outlined by various organisations and authorities for an inquiry into the advertising world. We have noticed that the Advertising Association is considering setting up, or has in fact set up, an advertising standards authority. This, again, is, of course, an argument in favour of the Motion which we are discussing and the need for an independent inquiry into the various aspects of the matter which abound at this time.
When we look at the figures involved we realise that the nation's economy is affected either directly or indirectly by the methods of advertising which have been mentioned. For instance, when we read that Surf, Daz, Tide and Omo are spending colossal sums on television and Press advertising and that Surf, in 1960, spent £850,000; that Tide spent well over £1 million, and that the total for all toilet soaps was over £2½ million and for synthetic detergents well over £5¾ million, we realise that we are dealing with a considerable industry.
As was indicated in outline earlier, this advertising is very often carried out by firms which are competing not only 806 with a rival monopoly but also with themselves. For instance, Thomas Hedley is reported to have spent over £2 million in 1957 advertising four washing products in competition with each other.
Let us now turn to the question of the standards and accuracy of advertisements. It has often been said by the advertising associations that no good advertiser will accept a contract to handle a bad product. I am prepared to believe that statement. But all advertisers are not good advertisers, and bad advertisers do not conform to this high standard. There is the case of the home fire extinguisher which one advertising agent refused to advertise because, when it vetted the article, it discovered that the fumes from the extinguisher were liable to render the user unconscious. That is an example of good advertising methods, and a desire to investigate the article which a manufacturer was trying to sell to the public. But the contract was accepted by another advertiser, and so a faulty extinguisher was pushed for sale upon the public.
If we turn to the question of television advertising we find the same sort of situation. In their advertisements on television, polish manufacturers use black glass instead of wood to show the efficiency of their products. I do not think anybody would describe that as good advertising. A pet food advertisement on television shows a cat supposedly being fed from a tin containing the food which is advertised, but the cat is really being fed with fresh liver. I do not know whether the cat has refused this tinned food before, but it has evidently decided that on television it will have fresh liver. It may enjoy fresh liver more than the tinned product mentioned. Again, no one would say that this is good advertising.
When one mentions the fact that products are being sold by these methods the reply is often made, "That is all right. Once the customer has bought them he will not do so again, and so the advertisements defeat their purpose." This may be all right in the case of the purchase of a bar of chocolate or soap, or tobacco, but what about the purchase of household equipment, such as refrigerators and television sets, and all the other costly things for which people 807 save for years ahead? The argument that the consumer is able to say, "I will not buy another one," does not apply in those cases.
I have already mentioned my interest in the distributive trades, and I want to point out that the distributive trades economy is badly upset by advertising. As a trade union official I have talked to literally hundreds of shop managers on this point and I have been told that inferior articles often have to be kept in stock because the public demand for them, in the initial period at least, has been very heavy, owing to the weight of advertising placed behind them. We do not need to wander into the realms of soap coupons or free gifts, and all the other inducements to see how disruptive upon the distributive trades is the impact of advertising. I can quote the President of the Board of Trade on this matter as saying that there ought to be a very close link between advertising and distribution in Britain. If firms would spend more on consumer research we might find considerable improvements.
Let us now consider the effect of advertising upon the economy of the nation. In 1960 we spent £455 million—an increase of 12 per cent. on the previous year. That is considerably more than private firms are spending on research and development, and almost half of what we are spending on education. In the United Kingdom Press alone £134 million was spent on advertising in 1960—a 17½ per cent. increase over the 1959 figure. Press advertising has trebled over the last ten years. In 1959 there were 34 firms which were listed as having spent over £200,000 in Press advertising, but in 1960 that number had risen to 75. No less than 34 of that 75 were spending over £315,000 on Press advertising.
Those of us who have watched great newspapers die in the last five or six years realise the tremendous effect of advertising upon the Press. The disturbing thing is that not only do these advertisements appear in the advertising columns; they often find their way into news and comment. It is well known that advertising pressure is being exercised upon fashion writers, women's page writers and other people who write 808 about various commodities—and these are people who are supposed to be making independent comment upon the goods which they mention in their columns. We must also bear in mind the dangers involved in a situation where a big advertiser could say to a newspaper proprietor, "Our order will go elsewhere next week if your policy on this, or that, is not toned down or changed." Is anyone going to say that this is not a probability in Britain in 1961?
§ Mr. Stratton Mills
The hon. Member has engaged in yet another smear upon the newspaper world by suggesting that it is open to pressure from advertisers. He made a charge, and it is up to him to substantiate it or to withdraw his allegation. It is a disgraceful thing to say.
§ Mr. Milne
I am sorry that the hon. Member should have felt it necessary to use those words. As for proof, journalists have already given information and evidence to the Molony Committee. At this moment the Committee has in its possession masses of information, which it is compiling, and which will be produced to the appropriate authorities at the proper time. If the hon. Member cares to talk to any working journalist on any newspaper in Britain now he will find that the statement that I have made can be substantiated—
§ Mr. Milne
No, I am sorry, but I have already given way to one hon. Member, and judging by the small number of Members present there will be ample opportunity for the hon. Member to make a speech later on.
In 1960 we spent just under £77 million on television advertising. The August copy of the Grocer's Gazette mentioned that twenty of the largest advertisers spent £57 million on Press and television advertising. Since we are 809 talking about working journalists, journalism and the Press, perhaps I should mention that Odhams Press has just announced that, as from January, 1962, a full page in Woman's Realm will cost £1,000 instead of £940. We are often told that competition by advertising removes the danger of monopolies growing up in business and commerce, but if we examine the trends we see that this is not so.
The other argument often used is that the cost of a product is made lower because the money spent on advertising increases its sales. Let us consider one or two examples. A firm was selling a kettle on the market at 23s. 6d. It decided to go in for a large-scale advertising campaign, and the price of the kettle was then increased to 37s. 6d. Hon. Members will probably say, "It was not the same kettle". I agree. The handle of the dearer kettle was red, whereas that of the cheaper kettle was black. When the manufacturers were asked, "Why did you increase the price?" they said, "An extensive national advertising campaign is being conducted on it and the price has been lifted." On sale in a well-known chemist's at the moment are aspirins of a certain formula at 25 for 4d. or 100 for 1s. Aspirins of the same formula are selling elsewhere at 27 for 1s. 8½d. The fact that the latter are being advertised at a cost of £500,000 per annum obviously has something to do with the difference in price, because there is no difference in the aspirins. It is, therefore, plain that advertising is only remotely connected with consumer interests, and that all too often it is a weapon in the price war or a factor in the struggle between giant monopolies.
In the time at the disposal of any hon. Member, or even of the House itself, it is impossible fully to examine and to underwrite all the statements and make a complete appraisal of the rôle played by the advertising industry, but I think I have said sufficient to show that what we say in the Motion shows that, because of its effect on the economy of the nation, an independent inquiry into advertising is required.
Lord Fisher of Lambeth said at the Advertising Council's annual meeting:The simple word 'truth' has lost its compelling power if it ever had it. Advertising 810 has to enter into a field where the amount of information is very small and the amount of seductive overtones and undertones so extremely large.He ended by saying:I am not saying where and when they depart from strict honesty. I do not know. But they give the impression that honesty is not the chief purpose.I can use no stronger words in asking this House to support the Motion for an inquiry into advertising.
§ 11.46 a.m.
§ Mr. William Shepherd (Cheadle)
I have listened very carefully to the speech made by the hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Milne) in support of his Motion. I should like to offer a few comments on what he has said, not from the standpoint of anyone who is interested in the advertising profession. My connection with advertising is as a modest advertiser and therefore I have little practical experience.
Advertising is vulnerable to criticism. With the advent of television it is necessarily more vulnerable to criticism because, whereas Press advertising or poster advertising is of a fairly durable nature, television advertising depends upon a lightning verbal impact. The great danger in this new form of advertising is that because of the short duration there will be excesses in order to get this very violent verbal impact, which costs about £2,000 to £3,000 a minute. This is no new development. After all, verbal impacts have been used for a long time. In more competitive days we have all seen the gentleman with a barrow of over-ripe or under-ripe bananas shouting, "Lovely ripe bananas". They were not lovely, nor were they ripe, but it was the same technique as we now have on the television screen.
I do not wish to pretend that all is well with advertising. Before I sit down I shall have one or two words to say about what I think it is necessary to do to improve standards, but I should like to rebut the suggestion, put rather subtly but nevertheless persistently, by the hon. Member, that in the advertising business there is an unhealthy undertone. I do not for a moment accept that charge. I believe that the vast majority of advertisers, the advertising agents and all mediums of advertising, do a good job. 811 They do a conscientious job and aim to serve the public.
Advertising is necessarily open to criticism. I may well think that the man who for the whole of his life does nothing else but think up ideas for presenting a new reason for buying X or Z is wasting his time. I should personally find it a most boring business. I could not feel, at the end of a lifetime, that I had done anything particularly worth while. But I feel that, on the whole, those engaged in this profession and in the publication of newspaper and other forms of advertising endeavour to do their job conscientiously.
They are not guilty of the vast disservice to the public which hon. Members opposite try to imply. The truth, of course, is that hon. Members opposite do not like advertising because they do not like what advertising means. They want a drab Socialist society in which one goes to the State shop and is handed out a predetermined product. As I said once before in this House, advertising is inseparable from a free society. If we are to have change, new ideas, new products forcing their way through into our industrial and commercial life, advertising is indispensable.
The hon. Member thought that advertising expense was excessive. In 1938, the percentage of the national income spent on advertising was about 2 per cent. and it is about the same today. With the growth of personal incomes, I should have expected a higher percentage to be spent on advertising than is spent in this country at present. Clearly, the more income one has the more one is inclined to consider variety and in that consideration the choice becomes more critical. It would be natural to expect—I certainly should expect—a higher percentage of the national income to be spent on advertising than is at present the case. I have said that I do not for a moment consider that all is well in advertising. Advertisers have their "lunatic fringe" and there are black sheep in every profession. Advertisers have their black sheep, but I do not think it fair to level charges against the advertising profession as a whole because I do not think those charges can be substantially supported.
812 The hon. Member said that advertising does not necessarily reduce the price of a product and, of course, it does not. I think it foolish of the advertising world to say that advertised products are either the best or necessarily the cheapest. If the hon. Member who is interested in the distributive trade will bear with me, I shall give one of the reasons why sometimes the public pay more than is necessary in buying advertised goods. The fact is that the distributive trade no longer takes a real interest in the products it is selling. It is interested only in handing over the counter a product which has already been sold for it.
I know a number of fields in which it is possible for the public to buy goods much more cheaply than they can buy well-known advertised brands, but those products are not sold simply because the retail trade will not make an effort to sell them on behalf of the manufacturers.
§ Mr. Milne
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member, but he has mentioned the distributive trade and the question of the passage of goods over the counter, which is a very important point. This is not due not so much to the people working behind the counter, but to the fact that the distributive trades have got into the hands of the financiers and speculators, and the people selling the goods are very remote from them. There is the development by Clore and Fraser and G.U.S., so that those in the distributive trades are remote from the consumer.
§ Mr. Shepherd
The control is getting into relatively fewer hands, but I should have thought that if that were so it presented a special opportunity for the smaller trader to give the public the benefit of the experience which he ought to have in providing them with products not generally sold by the main distributors and that he could offer a positive advantage to his customers. I think that the distributive trade is open to criticism on this. I hope that the time will come when it will be more ready to take up manufactures which are as good as or better than those advertised and which could be sold at a lower price. I hope that criticism and analysis of products by organisations such as the 813 Consumers' Association and B.S.I. will help towards this end.
It is true that some products which are advertised cost too much. I know of instances, for example, in the patent medicine field where the cost of advertising is half the total cost of the sales of the company concerned. That is far too high. If the cost of advertising reaches 15 per cent. or 20 per cent. it represents a too high percentage. In recent years the cost of advertising has increased enormously. The other day I was discussing these increasing costs with a mail order firm. The firm took the view that it now costs eight times as much to get advertising over than it cost in 1952. Advertising is becoming increasingly expensive; as competition increases, the cost of making an impact becomes greater.
I want to come to the point which, I think, is of substance here: what is wrong with advertising and what can be done to put it right? I do not for a moment think that all is well, but what is wrong is only fractionally wrong. I doubt whether 2½ per cent. of the total advertising in this country is advertising to which exception could be taken. Maybe it is only 2 per cent.—I have never attempted to analyse it—but the amount of advertising which causes a Member of Parliament or the public concern is extremely limited. Therefore, we are dealing with a fraction of the advertising business. I am sometimes concerned at the attitude of some newspapers and some advertising organisations to criticism. I am more than surprised that they permit their names to be damaged by allowing this small percentage of questionable advertising.
May I say to the House why I think this questionable advertising gets by? It is not always a matter of lack of integrity. That would be relatively simple to deal with. I think that it arises from the failure to have any single organisation which is capable effectively of controlling questionable advertising and from the inherent difficulties of deciding which advertising is in fact questionable and which is not. The hon. Member can say with great ease that this is all wrong, but I assure him—and I have spent a lot of time on this question of advertising—that the task 814 of deciding whether a given advertisement is acceptable or not is often an exceedingly difficult one.
I want to be fair to the members of the advertising profession. They spend a great deal of time on this work. I do not know whether the hon. Member has ever seen a stop list, but I have had a brief glance at one and it is surprising how many people are on the stop list. One of the difficulties of determining which advertising is acceptable and which is not is that business is a constantly changing pattern. A firm which has a good record may be taken over by someone else, and the new operators may have an entirely different policy.
Let us take switch advertising, which is open to the greatest criticism. A newspaper may well examine the stock of Mr. J. in December and find that he has 300 second-hand sewing machines and 500 second-hand vacuum cleaners, which is enough to supply second-hand machines if they are wanted. But in February Mr. J.'s stock may be nonexistent. I ask the House, and particularly the hon. Member who has made these criticisms, to realise that this is not an easy matter to maintain a continuous check.
I will take another form of advertising to illustrate the difficulties. Let us take a building society when one gets a little nervous about the way in which it is being run. At what point is the advertising profession entitled to say, "We will finish off the business of these people?"—for that is what it means in many cases. The profession may well be justified in saying exactly this, but it is not an easy decision to take. I ask the hon. Member to realise that this is by no means a simple problem which he has presented to the House.
When I say this I do not mean to relieve the advertising profession of all sense of responsibility or to pretend that I am satisfied with the means which the profession now uses. The first basic failing of the advertising business in dealing with this problem is that there is not one single body capable of exercising control over the whole field. There is the Advertising Association, the Retail Trading Standards Association, the Newspaper Society, the Newspaper Proprietors' Association, and other 815 bodies, too, as well as the practitioners themselves, all trying to put their spoke in to secure the requisite standard of advertising. Inevitably, it happens that there are differences between these various bodies, and it is the differences of interpretation which allow advertising to filter into the Press and other media which should never be allowed and which do great damage to the prestige of advertising.
What do I suggest? In the first place, we are entitled to ask that the Press drop its suspicion of any form of supervision. The Press wickedly exploits the fact that it must essentially be independent. Because we must have a free Press, in the main the members of the Press have cultivated within their own minds the idea that whatever they want to do must be in the public interest, and they resent, in a way which, to my mind, is to their disadvantage, any outside criticism of their activities. Their activities can be criticised, when they allow into their columns advertising of a questionable character.
Let me give the House an example of advertising of a questionable character which is being presented in our big organs of the Press quite substantially. Before I do so, I will inform the House that I am interested in this field, although not to any great extent financially. This is the advertising of a clinic which is known as Akers, and which has an activity under a different name called The Hair Care Clinic. This organisation is well known for its methods. It has been successfully prosecuted for fraud in Belgium and it has been exposed by quite a few newspapers in this country. The methods are well known.
The clinic advertises substantially and gets people into its establishment. It tells the unfortunate man that if he does not sign up for £70 worth of treatment he will be bald in two or three months. At the end of this period, when nothing has happened, the clinic says to him, "You are getting on quite well, and if you have another £70 worth you should be all right." By this method this clinic robs hundreds, if not thousands, of people of money, and it is able to rob people only because newspapers make it possible for them to be robbed.
816 I have spent some time with the newspapers on this kind of advertising. The newspaper societies know exactly what takes place. They know as well as I know that Akers have not a qualified man on their staff, although they call them trichologists; unfortunately, it is legal to call an unqualified man a trichologist. Because of the lack of any sort of training on their staff, they are not even allowed to use an ultra-violet lamp under L.C.C. regulations.
But this advertising goes on. It is true that the I.T.A. will not accept it. When I have raised this matter I have met with this response—and I present this to the House as a measure of the difficulty which we have in dealing with this problem. The advertising authorities say, "Yes, we know all about what happens and how, when the man goes in there, he has pressure put on him. We know that the business has no qualified people operating and that they do not know what they are doing. We know that it is merely a catch-penny. We will stop this advertising if you can show us that there is any form of misstatement or misrepresentation in the advertisement itself. If there is any form of misstatement or misrepresentation in the advertisement itself, we will stop it, but we will not concern ourselves with what happens, however bad it happens to be, as a consequence of an advertisement where there is no finger to be pointed at the correctness of the advertisement." In other words, they say, "As long as this advertisement in itself is free from any blemish in terms of mistatement or misrepresentation, we do not care about the use to which the advertiser puts the contact which he has gained therefrom".
§ Mr. Francis Noel-Baker (Swindon)
I am very interested in the hon. Member's speech. He has referred to the stop list. He also referred to the advertising authorities. Will he make it clear to which body he is referring? Do I take it that he is referring to the Joint Copy Committee? It was not clear from what he said.
§ Mr. Shepherd
Obviously, a matter of this kind is considered by the N.P.A. and the Advertising Association, and others, and what I am saying is the general conclusion of all of them. It illustrates the difficulty which we have in that in many cases newspapers are prepared to stand upon the fact that as 817 long as the advertisement itself is free from misrepresentation, they do not care what use is made of the contact which is obtained from it.
This situation has become worse in two respects. First, up to a few months ago the Beaverbrook newspapers refused to take this advertising. I think that it is true to say that they have maintained a higher standard in their advertising columns than any other newspaper in the country.
§ Mr. Shepherd
Yes, of the popular press. Whatever we may say about the editorial columns of the Beaverbrook Press, it is true to say that they have maintained a higher standard than any of the other popular newspapers in advertising. But in the last few months, I believe because of changes in personnel, they have taken this advertising.
The Daily Telegraph has taken it for a long time. It is unhappily true, and known among those who know anything about advertising, that the Daily Telegraph will take anything; it is very surprising for a newspaper of its eminence that it should be so undiscriminating in its advertising columns.
§ Mr. Edelman
The hon. Member has criticised the Daily Telegraph. Will he give some examples to support this omnibus condemnation of the Daily Telegraph?
§ Mr. Shepherd
I could give quite a number of instances. I have given the advertising of Akers clinic as an example. I assure the hon. Member that it is probably easier to get borderline advertising in the Daily Telegraph than in most other newspapers. I say this with regret, and I hope that the Daily Telegraph will tighten up its attitude, because it is, unfortunately, well known that this is the situation in the Daily Telegraph.
§ Mr. Curran
I have been listening to what my hon. Friend has said with a good deal of surprise. He is making extraordinarily widespread charges against all sorts of newspapers. Is he unable to give us any chapter and verse for any of these accusations?
§ Mr. Shepherd
I have given one chapter and one verse—Akers clinic. The 818 Daily Telegraph was the first newspaper to accept that advertising. I think that if my hon. Friend asks the advertising agents he will get confirmation of what I am saying. I do not want to press this point except that it has been distressing to me that the Daily Telegraph, which is an eminent newspaper, very ably conducted in every way, should be a little easier in the acceptance of advertising than I should have thought would have been desirable for its position in the newspaper world.
As I have said, the situation has deteriorated. The original advertisements which this firm produced were not open to question. But since they have gained access to the newspapers they are presenting advertisements which, in my view, are very deceptive indeed. I have given this example of which I have some personal knowledge because I feel that unless something positive is done it will be virtually impossible to correct these minor faults—and let me emphasise that they are only minor faults.
What ought to be done? I think that the industry ought to set up a control organisation which will decide acceptability and the decisions of which will be binding upon all the organs of the Press, I.T.V. and outdoor publicity. Legislation may be necessary to do this; it probably will be. It will be essential that this organisation is partly, at any rate, run by independent persons. It will be no good setting up an organisation on which there are only representatives of the Press itself or the advertisers or the agents. I am casting no reflection upon these people, but it is one of the essential difficulties of the situation that we cannot get anything like effectiveness when there is an attempt to control this situation by conflicting trade interests. We must have a substantial independent interest.
If we set up an organisation with an independent chairman of high standing and with an independent staff, but with representatives of the trade in all its aspects—advertisers, advertising agents, the Press, and the I.T.A.—I am sure that we could in a very short time get rid of the small percentage of advertising which is bringing an unjustified amount of criticism on the trade. I am sure that within a very short time such a 819 body could tackle this difficult problem and bring about a satisfactory result.
I reject the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Blyth that we should have an independent inquiry. We do not want an independent inquiry for this, because we know the measure of the problem. We know that if an independent organisation were established it could very quickly right most of these shortcomings. There will always be a marginal amount of advertising against which some criticisms can be directed, but in this country we are, in the main, blessed with people in business who have a sense of responsibility.
The average man in business does not want to cheat the trade or the customer. We have a very good record in this respect and we do not want a steam-hammer to crack this nut. What we want is an independent organisation which can effectively vet advertising so that the very small amount of questionable material will no longer appear in the Press on I.T.V. and in outdoor publicity.
I hope that the hon. Member for Blyth will bear in mind what I have said and accept the fact that most people engaged in advertising are men of as good intentions as he has, and that criticisms of a widespread nature of this profession are generally not justified.
§ 12.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Maurice Edelman (Coventry, North)
I think that the whole House will be grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Blyth (Mr. Milne) for having drawn our attention to the working of what is probably the world's second oldest profession. Indeed, I think that it is one whose ramifications reach not only into the widest areas of industry but nowadays, because of the development of new media of mass communication, into the social lives of everybody in this country.
I will try to the best of my ability to follow the moderate tone of the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mr. Shepherd). I listened with great interest to his speech, which on the whole I regarded as putting the matter in proper perspective. However, I felt that he was extraordinarily selective in his condemnation and approval of newspapers for the advertising which they have accepted. However 820 justified he may be in pillorying the pseudo-trichologists who extort so much money from the public for contributing so little hair, I nevertheless feel that if one examined the whole range of advertising which appears in newspapers, the Daily Telegraph, which the hon. Member singled out for his disapproval, would be in no worse case than any of the others.
Indeed, part of the object of this debate is to remove the responsibility for ascertaining the value of advertising, its quality and its moral worth, from the newspapers and other media concerned with putting the advertising over and seeing what can be done to decide whether advertising is socially desirable. When one considers some of the advertising which has already been discussed in the House, it is perfectly clear that no editor, indeed no business manager of a firm, is capable by himself of assessing whether the advertising serves some useful social purpose. Some time ago I raised the question of a product called "Pro-plus", whose purpose allegedly was to pep people up, to produce in the public all those qualities of energy, vitality, virility, and so on, which the huckster in the past used to advertise for his nostrums in the market-place. When the answer came from the Ministry of Health, it became clear that, despite all the pretensions of this product, all they amounted to in health-giving properties was the equivalent of a cup of coffee.
Consequently, the hon. Member for Cheadle ought to consider whether it is fair to have singled out any particular paper for advertising any particular product when, I regret to say, the advertisements of "Pro-plus" tablets have now crept back into the advertising columns of virtually all the national newspapers, making similar claims to those which were forcibly made hitherto.
The reason why we need an inquiry so urgently is that advertising in this century, particularly in the last ten years, has taken on a different and a more insidious form because of the new means of communication open to the advertiser. We have heard a great deal about subliminal advertising. Hon. Members will know that this is the technique, which has been used in America, of flashing, for example, on a television 821 screen, an exhortation to buy a certain product which, although it is not actually visible to the viewer, sinks into his subconscious. It sinks into the threshold of his mind, with the result that he is brain-washed and conditioned to approve of the product. I believe that both in America and in this country subliminal advertising has been disapproved of by the various advertising associations.
Nevertheless, the subliminal effect does not have to be produced by a sub-visual presentation on the screen. I believe that in the Freudian age in which we live, the age in which the limits of our consciousness have been extended by Freud's extension of the subconscious, there are a multitude of ways in which society is conditioned to accept things which normally and consciously, if it had the opportunity of giving rational consideration to the problem, it would not accept. The modern advertiser has been profiting from this.
The vast amount of money now being expended on advertising is not simply to fertilise trade. I think that everyone accepts that there is a proper function for advertising. Everyone will agree that it is right that the manufacturer or the salesman should bring his product to the attention of the widest number of people if the product is of economic or social use. However, the rot begins to set in when what is advertised is not intrinsically useful or desirable. When an advertiser is trying to impose on the public for purely commercial and financial reasons a product which certainly in moderation but a fortiori in excess may be damaging to the public, it is time to cry "Halt" and for the Government to intervene and establish some standard by which advertising can be measured and assessed.
My hon. Friend the Member for Blyth referred to the sales drive on the part of Guinness, this attack—that is the only word—on doctors in order to get what the Americans call an endorsement of the product. I thought that the letter which my hon. Friend read was couched in certain rather presumptuous terms, the presumption being that the doctor either had the right or not to endorse the virtues of Guinness.
822 As far as I know, Guinness may be a most desirable beverage. When I drank it when I was rather younger and an undergraduate, I had the feeling that it must be good for one because its taste was so nasty. There may well be many doctors who will give an endorsement which will result in an increase in the sales of Guinness. I only know that one doctor friend of mine, being unable to resist any free offer, now has two dozen bottles of Guinness, which he has stacked, but which he will not drink, because he does not like its taste.
The fact is that this technique of advertising, this technique of imposing a test on the public, becomes an abuse when it reaches out into an attack—I am putting it strongly because I believe it to be so—on the professional virtue of those charged with the care of the health of the public. It has been stated in the House in connection with patent medicines that in the past doctors have been assailed by golf balls, by offers of weekends in Paris, and by all sorts of—I will use the word—bribes, to try to encourage them to promote certain patent medicines. But it is going rather far when it reaches the stage that the manufacturers of alcoholic beverages start importuning doctors to try to encourage them to advocate the sale of alcohol.
There is one thing which I strongly recommend today. As Christmas approaches and as the barrage of salesmen and advertisers of alcoholic beverages increases, I wish that the I.T.A. would decide that between now and Christmas or the New Year at least there should be a stop on the advertising of alcoholic beverages. The other night I watched a television programme—a so-called advertising magazine—in which, after an absolute orgy of recommendations of this drink and that drink, the young man who had been recommending these beverages, which I must admit made me thirsty even to listen to him and which I am sure must have had the same effect on perhaps more hardened drinkers, advised people to be careful. Having encouraged people, by stimulating their reactions to a positive urge for alcoholic consumption, he then came in front of the camera, looked the lens straight in the face, and said, "And do not forget, after 823 you have had that drink, drive carefully on the way home".
That seems to me to be the depth of hypocrisy. We first had this stimulation to the consumption of alcohol. Let me say here in parentheses that I do not disapprove in any degree of the moderate consumption of alcohol, but I think that the indiscriminate projection of propaganda to young people, to adolescents, to people who are perhaps incapable of making the fine distinction which lies between a moderate consumption of alcohol and an excessive consumption, is immoral. It is a corrupting element in our society. I think that the worst thing I can say today about these sinister aspects of advertising is that they range from the seduction of the innocent to the corruption of the sophisticated.
The attack on the doctors which I mentioned earlier is an example of the corruption, and one does not have to look very far to see how the innocent are being seduced. One has only to consider how, night after night, children are being urged to get their parents to buy this or that breakfast food or this or that kind of chocolate, and so on. All this pressure which has been put on the public to condition the mind, particularly of the young, shows that the advertisers have recognised just what are the weakest points in the rational defensive barrier of the public.
I mentioned Freud and I think that one should not disregard the way in which the revelations of Freud have been used more and more in the last twenty years or so to assault public taste. We have, for example, the way in which mother love is made an excuse for selling detergents, child love for creating a morbid demand for sweets, and adolescent love as an occasion for promoting an addiction to tobacco. I refer to tobacco not because I am by chance almost a non-smoker, but because of the latest report of the Registrar-General, which most hon. Members will have read.
It is now perfectly clear that there is some form of association between a number of diseases—I will not particularise them—and an excessive intake of tobacco. The death rate from certain diseases linked with an excessive intake 824 of tobacco is such that it seems to be an utterly anti-social activity for television and the columns of the newspapers, which are available to young and old alike, to be used to promote an increase in the intake of tobacco.
Had we been dealing with marijuana, cocaine or with some obscure drug which had suddenly been detected, what an outcry there would have been if suddenly we saw an advertiser's announcement that they wanted to increase the sales of such a product. Nowadays we accept with complete phlegm that tobacco, which has been condemned by the medical profession for its noxious qualities, is being used by the advertisers in commonplace advertisements for purely commercial and financial purposes. One of the sinister things arising out of this is that if one looks at the kind of advertisements on television one sees that the people shown to be smoking—like those shown to be drinking—are not the hardened topers or hardened inhalers of tobacco. They are shown in romantic settings and, because of the attractive framework in which they are shown, they must be an example to young people.
§ Mr. Shepherd
Is the hon. Gentleman saying that he really believes that no advertising should be allowed of drink or tobacco?
§ Mr. Edelman
I do think so and I also believe that this subject should be referred to the inquiry which my hon. Friend the Member for Blyth has been discussing. I do not want to be dogmatic about this, for there are many shades of view on these matters. But it is certainly a subject which should be considered by a committee of inquiry because, as one passes through the degree of consumption, so the dangers become greater.
I am trying to make the point that these advertisements lack social responsibility. I do not want to acquit an industry, in which I am most interested, of a lack of social responsibility in its advertising. I am thinking at the moment of the motor car industry. It is odious that motor manufacturers should advance as one of the claims for virtue of their product the high speeds of which they are capable. To illustrate this—and perhaps the hon. Gentleman 825 the Member for Cheadle who shrinks so fastidiously from what I said before, will revise his judgment—I will quote an example of an advertisement Which, I hasten to say, was withdrawn after a public outcry which followed its publication. The advertisement, by a famous motor manufacturer, read:You are invited to hurl the new Triumph Herald 1200 at the nastiest corner you know. It won't sway, judder, bounce or rock and roll. If you really take it faster than you should, you may get a bit of tyre squeal. That's all …It is deplorable that any motor car firm should consider itself justified to publish an advertisement of that kind, even if it means that by doing so it attracts the young, the energetic and the enterprising.
The advertisers always say in justification of their attitude that, after all, we must let the public have its free choice and, because it is mature and adult, whatever the advertisers do, the product must finally be assessed by the public mind. The trouble is that the public is not all adult and mature and many young people are accessible to the impact of these advertisements. Consequently it becomes all the more clear, as this debate progresses, that there must be some sort of body capable of examining, assessing and, if necessary, condemning advertising when it becomes anti-social.
I will try to indicate the sort of body I have in mind. I observe that the Advertising Association has come forward with the idea that what it calls an "advertising standards authority" should be set up to investigate the claims of advertisements, to assess them and, if necessary, to condemn them in the manner of the Press Council. It would be out of order for me to speak of the Press Council, but I must say that I do not believe that the Press Council has been a success in any degree. It has failed lamentably and to take it as a model for an advertising authority would merely be to repeat the mistakes and the failures of the Press Council.
An advertising authority might be a desirable idea, but only if it did not fall within the general competence of the advertisers to determine its policy or to affect its judgment. If the authority is to act as the name implies, it should be a publicly constituted body. Its 826 membership should be such that advertisers and newspaper men would only be assessors and would not form an integral part of its membership. Only if we remove the body which is assessing advertisements from the powerful commercial interests now operating in the advertising world, will it be possible to influence the policy of certain newspapers. Only by doing that will we establish a body that is capable of improving the health of advertising which today is in such a debilitated condition.
The hon. Member for Cheadle, who challenged whether advertisers affect the policies of newspapers, should look at some of the newspaper supplements that are now published as a matter of course. These are supplements of four or more pages which relate to a specific subject. On the basis of that relation the advertising people can go out and get advertising for the supplements.
The next stage is that in the editorial matter which is between the advertisements one has general recommendation, approval and support of the product advertised. This is a modern, sinister and undesirable development. As in the case of the glossy magazine, it spills over from the advertisements on the front and back and is encapsulated into the essential editorial matter. This is a commonplace of publishing in the glossy magazine world. The public are no longer able to distinguish between the paid advertisement and the honourable opinion which journalists should and could exercise. Consequently, the public are entitled to ask the Government for this independent inquiry to be set up.
At one time advertising could have been left to the responsibility of the individual who advertised and to the judgment of those who were the recipients of the advertising. Nowadays, the situation has changed so rapidly and the power of advertising has become so compulsive and the pressures exercised on the public mind and conscience are now so great that the moment has come for the Government to intervene. In these circumstances, I hope that the Minister will welcome the initiative of my hon. Friend and, in order to introduce a new and higher degree of social responsibility on the part of advertisers, agree that the Government will set up a committee of inquiry.
§ 12.41 p.m.
§ Mr. James Dance (Bromsgrove)
It is right that at the beginning I should declare a rather remote interest in this subject. I am a director of a company which publishes and sells theatre programmes, which, of course, carry advertisements. I cannot support the Motion for various reasons. The first is that the Molony Committee which is now sitting is bringing out a report in the near future—it may be next Tuesday. The Institute of Practitioners in Advertising is in full support and doing all it can to make the Committee work well.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade (Mr. Niall Macpherson)
I ought to correct the date. I have already stated at this Dispatch Box that the Molony Committee is likely to report in the second quarter of next year.
§ Mr. Dance
I apologise. I had the wrong information. The fact remains that the Committee has been sitting and information has been put before it.
To illustrate the great help which the whole of the advertising world wishes to give to the Molony Committee, I should like to quote from a document issued by the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising, which reads:We believe that criticism of advertising and the methods used in it today, although extremely vocal, is not widely spread.That is true.… it is incumbent on those engaged in advertising to do all they can to maintain and improve standards. We can assure the Committee that advertising agencies are not insensitive to reasoned and justified criticisms and where these can be related to specific advertising campaigns are ready to take action. We are, therefore, anxious to be as helpful as possible to the Molony Committee in its deliberations by making constructive suggestions … We agree … that the Merchandise Marks Acts, the Food and Drugs Act and some other Acts form a useful basis on which action can be taken. We do not believe, however, that these factual misdescriptions appear in more than a minute proportion of advertising. We shall be dealing later in this letter with the best methods of investigating and adjudicating on any advertisements which are accused of being misleading.Therefore, the people concerned in the advertising world are fully aware that they have a responsibility.
My own experience is that they are very good. They are extremely critical 828 of misleading advertisements. In most cases these are not allowed to be published, but there are, of course, black sheep who get through. I think that it would be much wiser if we awaited the result of the Molony Committee's deliberations.
The other reason why I oppose the Motion is that in some people's minds "advertising" is a dirty word. This is entirely wrong. In many ways advertising is a boon to the nation. I believe, too, that the housewife has a mind of her own. She will not be swayed by "phoney" advertisements. I do not believe that for a moment, and in her own interest and for the preservation of her own dignity she should not be required to live in a country where she is not allowed to make her own choice. From that point of view, therefore, advertising is not a bad idea.
Christmas is approaching and I confess that I find a great deal of value in the advertisements I see. They help me to select gifts for my children and my friends. I take keen interest in the weekly magazines and find that their small advertisements and their suggestions are a great help. What a very dreary thing it would be if the periodicals we bought did not carry any advertisements. I find them fascinating. They are not the type of advertising that we were accustomed to have in the past. They are colourful and, in many cases, they are artistic. My family buy these periodicals every week and they spend quite a long time looking at and enjoying the advertisements.
§ Mr. Marcus Lipton (Brixton)
The hon. Member talks about how dreary publications would be without advertising. Would he say whether or not HANSARD would be improved by the insertion of advertisements?
§ Mr. Stratton Mills
Is my hon. Friend aware that there are some hon. Members 829 who have the ability of self-advertising quite sufficiently developed already?
§ Mr. Dance
I am sorry to hear that. I hope that he gets a copy of The Motor, or some other good motoring journal with first-class advertising, to help him find where he can buy a new car; and I hope that he will not buy one that goes too fast.
If we had no advertising in our daily newspapers, how much would they cost each day? I would guess that it would be 5s. or 6s. We talk about the freedom of the Press, but there would not be much freedom for the readers then, because if there were no advertising in the papers very few people would be able to buy them. I am a great advocate of local newspapers. They are wonderful things. They keep local people informed of what is going on. They carry fairly full reports of local council meetings which make known the viewpoints of their various councillors. If a person wants to sell or exchange something he can put an advertisement in the local paper. This is a boon to everybody. I do not see how our present agricultural system could carry on if people were not able to advertise farms for sale, farm machinery and stock.
These papers are followed closely by all the local people. If we were to do away with advertising, the local papers would disappear. That would be a very sad day for our countryside. The loal newspapers to which I am referring—I have some good ones in my constituency—are a way of British life, and if they were to die out it would be a tragedy. As sure as eggs are eggs, if we did away with advertising none of these papers would be able to exist.
Some advertisements are amusing. Frankly, having travelled about on the 830 Paris Metro one wishes that more people would buy a widely advertised soap because, as we understand it, even their best friends will not tell them, and the only way for them to find out what is wrong with them is to read the advertisements. Some advertisements are not only amusing, but beneficial. They encourage people to buy good products. Some of them encourage people to have a bath. Is that a very bad thing?
However, I would deplore really misleading advertisements about drugs. For example, if someone put on the market a drug which he said would cure a ghastly disease, I entirely agree that that would be a terrible thing to do. But the people who look after advertising are responsible persons and that sort of thing does not occur, or if it does occur, it is very infrequent. I agree that there should be control over that type of thing, and also control over some of these switch sales, which are bad, but I believe that the industry itself will look after those points.
I am of the opinion that a lot of wise suggestions will emerge from the Molony Committee's Report. Therefore, I think that this is not the moment when we should vote in favour, or even consider voting in favour, of the Motion. We should await the Committee's Report. Above all, I feel that it would be a bad thing if we sent out from this House a message that all advertising is bad. Most advertising is good and is of benefit to the public, giving them information and helping them. Just because there are a few black sheep who do not abide by the rules, I do not think that we should necessarily condemn all advertising. For this reason I cannot support the Motion.
§ 12.53 p.m.
§ Mr. George Darling (Sheffield, Hillsborough)
We have heard a very bright and breezy defence of the advertising profession. I should prefer to call it a trade. It is not yet a profession.
§ Mr. Darling
There cannot be a profession unless it is able to rule itself 831 and is able to enforce its ethical rules on its members.
One of the purposes of the debate is to point to the behaviour and ethical standards that we should like to see adopted by practitioners throughout the trade. I admire the capacity of the hon. member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Dance) to ignore all the problems of modern advertising. I shall try to cover a number of the points which he has raised and to show that there are far more problems involved here than the hon. Member seems to realise.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Mr. F. Noel-Baker) will forgive me for intervening at this point, for I know that he wishes to speak, but I thought that it would be of advantage to the House if I tried to explain the attitude of the Labour Party towards commercial advertising. I have been asked to do this by right hon. Friends of mine who usually occupy the Opposition Front Bench, and I intervene at this stage to explain what we think could be done to correct the abuses which, though perhaps not widespread, are many, and the misrepresentation and deceitful practices which I am sure my hon. Friend the Member for Blyth (Mr. Milne) referred to in his speech, the whole of which I was, unfortunately unable to hear because I was fogbound near Wembley and got here late. I shall also have in mind the abuses and misrepresentation which other hon. Members have referred to subsequently. I shall say what we think can be done and should be done to enforce acceptable standards of advertising in the commercial life of the country.
My hon. Friend has asked for an independent inquiry into the whole aspect of advertising. As I think the Parliamentary Secretary will agree, the terms of reference of the Molony Committee are very restricted in this sense. The Committee is dealing only with what one might call the consumer protection angle of advertising. That is tremendously important, but there are other far more important questions to be considered. I would agree with my hon. Friend that there is a strong, indeed, an unanswerable, case for an independent inquiry into all the aspects 832 of advertising and the place of advertising and the practice of it in our society.
Here, I agree with the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mr. Shepherd). In a very real sense we live today in a huckster's society. There is perhaps nothing wrong with that. We have a free society in the sense that everyone, provided that he has the cash, can pick and choose what he wants to buy. My hon. Friends and I want to change many aspects of that society, it is true, but we do not believe that in doing so we should restrict the freedom of choice which we believe the people ought to have. In fact, one of our aims is to widen the area of choice so that they can have far more goods and services to choose from than they have today.
In our society as it is today, the makers and sellers of goods, and the agencies which provide commercial services of one kind or another, have to persuade the customers to choose their goods and services; and their means of persuasion are advertisements. We would say, therefore, that, in contradiction to the hon. Member for Cheadle, advertising is an essential characteristic of a free society. There is no reason why that advertising should not be colourful, attractive and persuasive, provided that it is informative advertising and not false and deceptive advertising in any shape or form.
It may be argued that much modern advertising brightens our lives. The late Mr. Frank Pick brought a great deal of colour and a high standard of pictorial art to London's tube stations and the other transport services run in London when he was a director of the London Passenger Transport Board and responsible for its poster advertising. I do not think that anybody would say that the colour and brightness which he brought to London with the posters advertising London Transport were either undesirable or deceptive in any way. We on this side of the House certainly do not want to ban this kind of colourful and attractive advertising. In fact, if we were faced with the question I should say that we should want to encourage advertisers to attain even higher standards of pictorial presentation of their goods and services.
833 But I repeat that the point that we make is that all advertising must be informative or at least have good prestige reasons. It must not be misleading or deceptive. It must not pander to anti-social behaviour and not offend good taste. I am sure that no hon. Member opposite would quarrel with these guiding rules. When we say that, however, we have to face certain problems. As soon as we start using terms like "good taste," "persuasive," "informative" or "deceptive," we are immediately involved in problems of definition. I do not think that any group of sensible people of average intelligence would have any difficulty at all in agreeing among themselves about the two extremes in modern advertising—the very good advertisements, which are honest and useful, at the one end, and the obviously fraudulent, offensive or objectionable advertisements, at the other. It is these fraudulent and offensive advertisements which I am sure both sides of the House want to get rid of, one way or another.
In between the extremes of black and white, so to speak, there is in modern advertising what I might call a large grey area in which it is virtually impossible to decide, with anything like universal agreement, where the dividing line can be drawn between persuasive and deceptive advertisements. Some of us have tried as an exercise in this direction to see whether we could find definitions of deceptive advertising in this area between the black and the white. It is very difficult to decide where to draw the line.
For instance, the slogan "Beer is Best", in my view, offends the intelligence of anybody who looks at it. It does not say what it is best for or what one is comparing it with, but one cannot get up in a court of law and say that it is either harmful or blatantly dishonest. And good taste, for instance, is something that can never be decided either in a Statute or by any committee of people meeting together for the purpose. These are some of the rather more difficult and abstruse questions connected with advertising which I think an independent committee of inquiry might very well look at, but there are others, and, in my opinion, far more important questions that ought to be examined by an independent inquiry.
834 For instance, is it true, as is very often claimed, that all commercial advertising reduces costs, and, therefore, prices, by increasing the demand for goods and services? This claim is very frequently made, and it ought to be examined. We ought to know in specific cases whether advertising campaigns which have been built up and developed at great expense have succeeded in reducing costs and prices. In present circumstances, I think another important question that needs to be examined is whether we are devoting enough of our total advertising expenditure to promoting export sales. One of the difficulties we are in at present is that our export trade is lagging, yet, at the same time, instead of more and more advertising revenue being devoted to the expansion of export sales, we are getting an expansion of advertising expenditure on selling goods in the home market; and, according to the Government, home demand ought to be restricted.
These are questions that are associated with the economics of advertising. I take this point no further except to say that I am convinced that there is a case now for the whole economics of advertising to have a reappraisal. There is another very serious problem, with important social consequences, which hon. Member for Bromsgrove turned completely round, and that is the power of patronage of advertising agencies over the Press. The hon. Member was saying, quite rightly, that if we reduce the advertisments that go into newspapers, the newspapers would find difficulty in carrying on, because they rely so much upon advertising. That is perfectly true, but in these days, when newspapers and magazines get the major part of their income from advertisements, it is the advertising agents, rather than the readers, who decide whether journals shall live or die.
§ Mr. Darling
I am coming to the point which I think the hon. Member wishes to make.
By the use of so-called media research, advertising agents themselves arbitrarily decide how the newspapers' revenues from the placing of advertisements shall be made, and, according to the decisions 835 they make, they decide whether their revenues will sustain, or, if the revenues are withdrawn, destroy, what we prefer to call in this country, a free Press.
It can be argued that it was the advertisers who killed the News Chronicle, and who killed other papers and magazines. After all, the News Chronicle had a circulation of over 1 million, and one would expect that a newspaper with that kind of circulation would live. On the other hand, the advertisers may put forward figures to prove that the News Chronicle was not a good advertising proposition, and may very well argue that it is not part of their duty to place advertisements in newspapers whose circulations are too small to justify the expenditure. They are in business to help their clients, who give them money for the advertisement which they are to place, in order to sell their clients' products. They can say with some justification that they are not in business to act as philanthropists in the interests of a free Press.
All this may be true, but I believe that this tremendous power of patronage over newspapers and magazines, the journals of opinion which we think are essential to a free society, raises important public issues which must be examined in the public interest. I am not coming down on one side or the other on the question whether advertisers are right in doing what they do, or whether the newspapers, on their part, which have been put out of circulation are to blame in anyway, but I feel that an investigation of this problem is desirable, and I feel sure, also, that a great many, and perhaps all, the reputable advertising agencies in the country would welcome such an independent inquiry just to establish the facts of the case.
§ Mr. Dance
Would not the hon. Gentleman agree that it is the public who control these things, and that it is not only circulation and the type of circulation? The advertising agent is not just there for fun and games, and to be tiresome with one paper and send it down the hill. He is there to get the best revenue he can, and the best revenue comes from the paper the public wants to read.
§ Mr. Darling
And the building up of circulation depends on the advertising 836 revenue which the paper receives. This is going round in circles. I quite agree with the hon. Gentleman, but I say that this is something to be investigated. I do not think that we should run away from it just because we can argue the case on both sides, without getting at the real facts.
These are some of the broad and, I think, urgent and important issues which we think ought to be thoroughly examined by an independent Commission. My hon. Friend's Motion calls on the Government to appoint such a body to conduct an inquiry into advertising, and this is where I part company from my hon. Friend. We cannot wait for a leisurely Government inquiry. The hon. Member for Bromsgrove has mentioned the Molony Committee. I think that he should get the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade to tell him how long the Molony Committee has been on this limited job.
If the Government accept this Motion and act on it—I am sure that they will not, but if they do—the inquiry committee could, perhaps, be appointed sometime next year, and in about three years time we might perhaps get a report. I do not think that we can wait that long, but I quarrel with my hon. Friend's Motion on another ground. He proposes to leave it to the Government to appoint the committee of inquiry and decide its terms of reference, whereas I am not satisfied that the Government would fulfil either task to his satisfaction.
A Government inquiry would have this further drawback, which I mentioned in connection with the Molony Committee. If we want it to do anything urgently about abuses in the advertising business which came to our notice after the inquiry committee had been set up by the Government, the Government would use that inquiry committee to prevent us doing anything in the House, just as they prevented us from doing things about consumer protection which we felt were urgent, with their usual cry, "We must wait for the Molony Committee". For all these reasons, we ought not to ask the Government to do this job.
It is for all the more important reasons I have given that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, on behalf of the Labour Party, has invited 837 Lord Reith and a group of other well-known men and women, of different shades of opinion but not representing any opinion, to conduct an inquiry into the place and practice of advertising in our modern society. We are very grateful to Lord Reith for public-spiritedly accepting a task which is bound to take up a great deal of his time. I think that everyone will agree that he will conduct this inquiry in a completely independent and objective way, which is what we all want.
§ Mr. Stratton Mills
All hon. Members have a very high regard for Lord Reith, who has given a lifetime of public service, but in considering this selection will the hon. Member bear in mind that in the public eye Lord Reith is closely associated with the British Broadcasting Corporation, which does not permit advertising; so that many people might feel that in some ways he would be starting at a disadvantage?
§ Mr. Darling
That is a matter which can be discussed when we get the results of Lord Reith's inquiry. It is hardly a germane point to make before he has started work. In any case, the B.B.C. is a very big advertiser and, under Lord Reith's direction, when he was Director-General, it developed a lot of very good advertising, which will no doubt be in the minds of hon. Members.
We believe that this truly independent inquiry, with wide terms of reference, will be far more useful and likely to produce a more valuable report, and certainly a quicker report, than would a Government inquiry at this stage. The House may recollect the excellent report on youth and youth services, produced about a year ago by a similar Commission, appointed by the Labour Party but quite free and independent and under the chairmanship of Mr. Gerald Gardiner, Q.C. We expect an equally useful and valuable report on advertising by Lord Reith's Commission.
This fundamental inquiry into advertising should not prevent us from taking action speedily to put an end to obvious abuses, some of which have been mentioned this morning and which are causing considerable concern to reputable advertisers as well as to the public. My hon. Friend the Member for Blyth has described some of the objectionable 838 practices which should be speedily ended. There are many more which could be added to the list. We require very little new legislation or amended legislation to catch within the net of legal offences all the patently false and deceptively false advertising and labelling which may go on.
There are many Acts of Parliament which already do that, for example, with food and drugs. There is a weakness in the operation of the drug side of the Food and Drugs Act, as compared with the food side, but those bits of legislation were included because we could not permit adulteration of food and we could not permit misleading labelling of drugs. Therefore, in its wisdom the House decided in 1955 to have strong legal measures in the Food and Drugs Act. There are also the Merchandise Marks Acts. All that is needed to catch everything in this kind of false advertising in the net of legal offences is one simple Bill and a few amendments to existing legislation.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bilston (Mr. R. Edwards) who, unfortunately, cannot be here today—he is attending a very important trade union meeting, if the fog has allowed him to get to it—is, I believe, preparing a Private Member's Bill on these lines which he will introduce in a few weeks. I think that he will study what is said today before he completes its final preparation. I think that he would agree with me, having studied the legislative aspects of this problem, that it is not enough to tighten up the laws against false advertising. To do that and nothing more would inevitably lead to a cluttering up of the courts with expensive lawyers arguing about the terms which are used—what is "deceptive"; what is "persuasive", and so on.
To deal with all but the obvious cases of fraud—which would be brought by the Board of Trade, for instance, in cases concerned with the Merchandise Marks Acts—we ought to rely on the advertising industry's own means of inducement, those of publicity and persuasion. We are entitled to ask the reputable advertisers themselves to use these means against all cases of misrepresentation which come to their notice. Unlike my hon. Friend the 839 Member for Coventry, North (Mr. Edelman), I welcome the Advertising Association's genuine efforts to stamp out misleading advertising and unfair and undesirable practices in its own business.
§ Mr. Edelman
I do not condemn the Advertising Association for trying to stamp out misleading practices within its own ranks. I was saying that the so-called authority which it proposes to set up will not be an authority because it will have no power and is, therefore, misleading in its self-description.
§ Mr. Darling
I am coming to that. I do not want to take up too much time. I have already been going for some time already, as it is.
We welcome the Advertising Association's approach to this problem. When it called it "voluntary self-discipline," I became somewhat cynical and, like my hon. Friend, I thought that it would be just another attempt at white-washing the black sheep in the profession—if I may put it that way. I find that I was wrong. There is no doubt that the reputable advertisers are genuinely disturbed about some of the practices which have been mentioned and want a cleaning-up operation. The Association is preparing a new code of advertising practice which will soon be published, and I am told that even my hon. Friends and I would not object to its terms. Of course, a code of practice is completely useless if the practitioners to whom it applies cannot be made to follow it. It is with the imposition of sanctions to ensure good behaviour that the Advertising Association's intentions will be put to the test.
As my hon. Friend has said, the Association is to set up what it calls an "Advertising Standards Authority." With him, I quarrel about the use of the word "authority" at this stage. However, I understand that the idea is to have an independent chairman and ten other members, five of whom will be assessors drawn from sections of the advertising industry and five representing consumers, selected, the Association hopes, by Ministers responsible for the Government Departments concerned. I understand that it is intended that this body will undertake the publicity of bad 840 practices and will exercise the persuasion which is needed to correct misrepresentation.
I do not know whether we and the Government can give official recognition to a body of this kind and, perhaps, to other reputable associations which attempt to impose good standards and fair practices in their own trades. It seems to me that we should look very carefully at this new approach by the advertisers themselves to make sure that bad practices are driven out of their trade. It may be that, in future legislation, if the composition and terms of reference of this proposed authority satisfy the use of the word "authority", some official recognition might be given to the body, provided that it will do the job in a field where it is very difficult to get legal action to achieve what we want if it can be done by publicity and persuasion.
We all want to see good standards that are observed everywhere and the banning of misleading advertisements and unfair practices. We have no reason to believe that the reputable advertising agents would not wish to do the job we would like them to carry out. Perhaps, with the proper use of publicity and persuasion, they might be able to get some of the less reputable people to behave better, but—
§ Mr. Edelman
This is a vitally important point. Is it not the case that an authority of this kind would only have reality if it had statutory existence, and was armed with sanctions legally recognised?
§ Mr. Darling
My hon. Friend has interrupted me at every point where I was just about to deal with what he has said. I was beginning my next sentence with the word "but". I was going on to say: but the law must be so properly written and comprehensive as to catch any offenders who have not been dealt with through the publicity, warning or persuasion which such a body might be able to carry out. The law must be there to catch those who are not caught in the first net.
While there may be relatively little objectionable advertising and misleading labelling, we still need the law to guard the public from any fraudulent practices which disreputable operators may think 841 up. I do not want to go any further into the composition and the possible recognition that might be given, not only to this body which the Advertising Association proposes, but to such bodies as the Retail Trading Standards Association. That is a wider matter and is something that the new independent inquiry under Lord Reith might very well look at.
My final point concerns commercial television, because it has been raised by several hon. Members. I deeply regret that in the matter of advertising commercial television has missed a wonderful opportunity to be of service to the community. Unfair practices, false advertising, deceptive advertising and misleading labelling are only one part of the story. What we want is to make sure that all manufacturers and all traders give to their customers, the consuming public, the fullest possible information they can about the products they are selling and which people are buying.
We have far too little informative advertising in this country. As hon. Members may know, on this side of the House we have produced a policy document in which we suggest ways and means of making sure that the people, when they go shopping, get far more information about the products they buy.
Commercial television was presented with a wonderful opportunity of using that valuable medium—I suppose that technically one would call it "animated visual aid"; I hate the term, but I gather that it has been used—to inform people about the composition, performance and quality of the goods. Instead of using that opportunity, commercial television gives us some of the most peurile newspaper advertisements dressed up in animated form.
I hope that the B.B.C., in its projected programmes on consumer protection—which, we understand, are to appear before long—will give the public the informative service which Independent Television has failed to provide. But if the B.B.C. is merely to give animated presentations of Which? and Shopper's Guide, valuable as these will be, it, too, will be missing the opportunity that television has been presented with to give to the people far more in- 842 formation about the goods and services they buy.
I hope that I have succeeded in correcting some of the misunderstandings—if I may put it that way—about the Labour Party's attitude to modern advertising. I think that the Reith Commission will do a very good job for the whole country in undertaking an inquiry which is urgently needed. For the reasons I have given I do not think that such an inquiry ought to be put upon the Government to undertake. I am sure that hon. Members, on this side at least, will wish Lord Reith every success. I am also sure that, when the independent character of the inquiry is fully appreciated, the whole country, too, will wish him well in his work.
§ 1.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Curran (Uxbridge)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Darling) on at least one part of his speech—the part in which he managed to give some resounding free advertisements to the Labour Party, its publications and its Reith commission, which he kept on talking about as an independent commission.
§ Mr. Curran
We are indeed. I am glad to see that the hon. Gentleman has not lost his skill in this matter. I do not know what the Reith Commission will report, but I can tell the hon. Gentleman, before it even starts work, that, whatever its findings, lots of people will disagree with them. No Commision, whether set up by the Government or by the Labour Party or anybody else, can ever reach conclusions about advertising which will be accepted universally. That is in the nature of the subject.
In a free society, there are bound to be disagreements. Just as there is disagreement in the expression of opinion, so is there bound to be disagreement about methods used to promote opinion. We are considering two quite separate questions. First is the question of what should be done about abuses of advertising—about advertisements that make fraudulent, dishonest claims—and, what should be done about advertisers who are on the fringe of the law as it stands but who could be brought within it by 843 amendment, as the hon. Member for Hillsborough suggested, of the law.
Nobody will try to defend the abuses, the distortions, the frauds and near frauds that have been practised by some advertisers. If the Food and Drugs Acts need amending so as to bring them within its ambit, then let it be amended by all means. But when we have conceded that there are abuses in advertising, and that these abuses could be tackled by amendments to the law, we are still left with the ultimate question—which underlay some of the speeches today—whether advertising is in itself an abuse. Is competitive bidding for people's attention not simply in order to give them information—because everybody agrees that advertising which is informative is not open to criticism—but to capture their taste indeed intolerable?
It seems to me that the hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Milne), and also the hon. Member for Coventry, North (Mr. Edelman)—perhaps I am doing them an injustice but I do not think I am—are tending to take the position, if not explicitly, at any rate indirectly, that advertising is in itself an abuse characteristic of the kind of society we have in which there is this competitive striving and this competitive stimulation of the acquisitive appetites. They appear to find this kind of society repugnant.
§ Mr. Edelman
I can speak only for myself, and not for my hon. Friend. That is not what I said. I said that advertising could fertilise trade and industry, and that to that extent it was desirable. Ultimately the advantage of advertising depends on what is promoted. For example, if the advertisers turned to the large-scale advertisement of marijuana, I would regard that as an abuse.
§ Mr. Curran
I agree with the hon. Gentleman, but he is going back to the point with which I have already dealt.
I am concerned not about whether advertising should be used for purposes which are or can be made illegal, but whether the kind of society that we have, which is based largely on the use of advertising to stimulate acquisitive 844 appetites, is in itself a desirable or undesirable society.
Most of the criticisms of advertising seem to come not from people who are concerned about the kind of abuses to which I have referred, but from those who fundamentally dislike this kind of acquisitive, competitive society in which we live. Ultimately this is a matter of choice. There is no way of deciding which kind of society is better in any sense of the word; whether it is better to have a society where goods and services are supplied competitively by people continually striving to stimulate public appetite, or a society where some central authority decides how much should be produced, how much should be distributed, and cuts out the element of competitive stimulation of the acquisitive appetite.
I suppose that there can never be agreement about whether the competitive society in which we live is in any sense of the word better than the kind of society which we see on the other side of the Iron Curtain, which does not need advertising except for purposes of information. I was interested to hear the references by the hon. Member for Hillsborough to the advertising in the London tubes which the late Frank Pick inspired. I agree that those advertisements are impressive, but the fact that they are there is a reflection of the fact that this is a competitive, acquisitive society living largely by the stimulus of personal tastes.
If the hon. Gentleman were to see the Moscow subway, he would find no advertisements there. The Moscow subway reflects the nature of the society behind it. The absence of competitive advertising is a reflection of the society which exists outside the Moscow tubes. There are some people who say that that kind of society is, in some sense of the word, better than the kind that we have. This is a matter on which there can be no ultimate decision, and it is not a question which can be settled by an inquiry.
§ Mr. Darling
There is some confusion here. I was not talking about the advertisements which appeared in the underground, on buses, and so on, advertising other people's products, so to speak, but the advertisements which 845 Frank Pick did for London Transport, which was really a monopoly.
§ Mr. Curran
Not necessarily. In a society where one can provide one's own transport; in a society in which, if one does not want to go by tube one can buy oneself a motor car and travel that way, great as was the need to advertise London Transport before the war, the need is even greater now. The more prosperous we get, the bigger is the shift from public to private transport, and thus the need to advertise public transport is more intense today than in Frank Pick's time.
The whole development of advertising on the London tubes—since that example has been given—is in sharp contrast to the state of affairs that one finds in the Soviet Union, where, as I have said, there is a complete absence of competitive advertising. This is one facet of that society which strikes the eye at once. Any visitor from this side of the Iron Curtain will notice that difference between life in Moscow and life in London more sharply than any other.
Society there has got rid of the evils, the vices, and all the other words which can be used about a competitive society. Indeed, it is a very drab society. It may be argued that drab as it is, it is better than ours. I say again that this is a matter of personal preference, and that it cannot be resolved by any process of argument or inquiry.
In a good deal of the criticisms that we have heard today, and in a good many of the demands that something should be done about advertising—not about the abuses of advertising but about advertising as such—one detects a note which has become increasingly audible in England during the last decade.
§ Mr. Christopher Mayhew (Woolwich, East)
If the hon. Gentleman attributes the drabness of Moscow society to the absence of advertising, does he also attribute the enormous dynamic of production there to its absence?
§ Mr. Curran
Not necessarily. It is a complete non sequitur to say that because something produces one sort of result, it necessarily produces another. There are all sorts of reasons which could be given for the dynamism of the Soviet society. I cannot see any special reason 846 for supposing that advertising makes much odds one way or the other.
In a lot of the criticisms made today I detect a note which has become increasingly audible in recent years. I suppose that one might call it the growing distrust of the common man's right to make judgments and the common man's capacity for making them.
§ Mr. Milne
When the hon. Gentleman talks about the rights of the common man, and attacks those rights, can he tell us how much of those rights remain, remembering that to stimulate the competitive society which he is so eloquently boosting one soap manufacture needs to sell the same product in four different capacities and in four different ways? How much chance has the common man at the moment of moving into a sphere which is dominated by two powerful monopolies?
§ Mr. Curran
The hon. Gentleman has asked two questions. The second one is the familiar criticism that capitalism does not provide scope for the individual. That is not relevant to this debate. Fascinating as it is, I cannot debate that now.
I am, however, happy to take up the hon. Gentleman on his first point. Like, I think, the majority of hon. Members on both sides of the House, I want to live in a free society which is dedicated to the raising of the standard of living, which accepts the need for the competitive stimulation of people's acquisitive appetites, and which recognises that since no human society is perfect it carries with it a certain number of abuses, a certain number of evils, and a good deal of waste. I cannot dispute that the kind of free society in which we live has drawbacks, and one of them is that there is a considerable amount of waste.
A free society which permits half-a-dozen products which are virtually indistinguishable from one another to be competitively sold, and permits large sums of money to be spent on the competitive selling of those products, is a society in which money is wasted; but the hon. Gentleman must recognise—as he must in all such criticisms—that one can get rid of one lot of evils only if one creates a society which substitutes a new lot of evils. Which would he 847 sooner have? Would he sooner have waste plus free choice or would he abolish waste and free choice as well?
We cannot create a perfect society, no matter what we do. We must accept the existence of evils in any kind of society. When we are making a political choice between one sort of society and another we must recognise that whichever society we choose it will have evils in it. I would sooner put up with the evils and the waste rather than abolish the waste by creating a society which did not have waste or free choice either.
If we take the view that the ordinary man must be protected against people who try to persuade him that he is not competent to make a personal choice, we had better face—and no one in the debate has yet done this—the implications of that sort of argument. If the common man needs to be protected against the hidden persuader, the expert propagandist and the skills of advertising; if it is argued that he cannot be allowed out by himself unless he is guarded and protected against these perils—then, if that is a good argument against advertising it is, I suggest, just as good an argument against democratic politics.
If we are to protect the people against one type of propagandist we had better protect them against others as well. It may not be easy to make a choice between Daz and Tide, but I should have thought that it was harder to choose between a planned economy and a market mechanism. To explain the difference between the two is at least as difficult as trying to plug one detergent as against another. If the simple man has to be guarded against the choice between one brand of cigarette and another on the ground that he cannot look after himself and that the cunning propagandists of the rival commodities will bamboozle him, it follows that he also has to be protected against the far more complex choice between two theories which need a lot of study in order to comprehend their difference.
§ Mr. Darling
If I may, I should like to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but I promise not to do so again. Surely the point is that we are not really arguing different things. The hon. Gentleman, I am sure, would say in regard to the 848 voter making a choice between the planned economy and the market mechanism that all information which can be given about the one or the other, all the educational arguments needed and all the facts, should be given to him. What we are saying is that when the hon. Gentleman buys a plastic raincoat he ought to know before he goes into the shop to buy it how plastic raincoats are put together. We insist that the advertiser should not mislead him.
§ Mr. Curran
I concede at once that if we need to change the law so that advertisers shall be required to give more accurate information, that should be done. If that is all that the hon. Gentleman is asking, I am with him. But I come to the basic question which is whether in a free society it is necessary for us to protect the ordinary citizen against the wiles of advertisers.
We had a lurid reference, as I was sure we should, to subliminal advertising. We had a reference to the wicked advertiser sitting in conclave with the demon psychiatrist and plotting methods to bamboozle the ordinary citizen and using disreputable scientific dodges to influence him. It was suggested that the common man had to be protected against such people. If it is argued that the common man is not fit to be at large when it comes to the question of choosing products himself, then neither is he fit to be at large when it is a question of choosing politicians. Indeed, the societies which have abolished competitive advertising have also abolished competitive politics. No one in the Soviet Union is permitted to choose between Daz and Tide and no one there is permitted, either, to choose between one political party and another.
I suggest that this is not an accident but that it is in the nature of a free society that we should have rival parties and products. Those who say that because we dislike some of the methods used to boost rival products we should get rid of the society in which they can be sold must accept the implication of the argument, "Get rid of that society and you will pour out a very large baby with the bath water. You cut out not only personal choice in commodities but also personal choice in political opinions".
849 If there is ground for saying that the common man cannot choose between commodities, there is just as good a ground for saying that he cannot choose between politicians. If we are to have an inquiry into the methods used by the propagandists in advertising, then I wish that we could have an inquiry into the methods used by propagandists in politics.
§ Mr. Curran
I should not object to such an inquiry. The hon. Gentleman seems to think that he has scored a point. He is merely reiterating my argument, which is that there is no good reason for picking out one kind of persuasive process and saying that we do not like it and are going to spotlight it, if we do not agree that there is just as good a reason for picking out others whether they be the propagation of political ideas or of ideas outside of politics.
We might have inquiries into all the methods of advocating opinions and ideas in the country, in advertising, in politics and in other spheres as well. I suggest that all this is part of the nature of a free society. A free society which permits a free traffic in ideas, free competition for people's tastes and freedom in making appeals to personal choice must, of course, contain certain evils. These processes of competitive appeal run the risk of abuse. I am quite ready to agree that these abuses need to be controlled by the law, but there is no need to inquire whether the abuses are there. Such an inquiry would not tell us anything that we do not know.
If there are cases where methods of persuasion as used in the selling of goods need to be more rigorously regulated than now, then that is a matter of fact. I do not believe that anyone who believes in a free society will raise any objection to it. But if we say that we do not want a sort of society in which there is this competitive appeal to personal choice and that we want advertising to be merely informative and that we do not want the kind of advertising which appeals to personal choice as distinct from information, then we must accept the implication of saying that. We are then saying that the kind of society in which we live is one which is basically repugnant to us, that we wish to get rid 850 of it and to substitute for it a society which, while it will not have the evils of our society, will have a new group of evils which, in my view, and, I fancy, in the view of most of the voters, will be a good deal worse than the present evils.
I want now to take the point which I think follows from this. I am not at all in favour of, and I cannot see how anyone who believes in a free society can favour, the implied attack on personal responsibility and personal choice that underly a great many of the attacks on advertising. I listened to the hon. Member for Coventry, North who talked about the practice of giving drink to doctors. He apparently wanted a law about it. Why does he want a law? Why cannot the doctors themselves refuse to take the stuff, if they do not want it? Why should we make a law in order to tackle something which, if it is an abuse, is one that can be remedied, without any legal action, by the persons concerned?
Some critics of advertising seem to want a society in which personal choice and responsibility are largely eliminated. They want a cultural feudalism in this country—they want a tutelage State in which the masses are supplied with products, given what some superior persons think they ought to want, and denied the exercise of any sort of personal choice, lest the techniques of personal choice should prove to be offensive to the superior persons.
I suggest that we should be very careful not to allow an attack upon the nature of our free society to be mounted behind the mask of a pretence that all these critics want to do is to get rid of some abuses. What they are seeking to do is to remove the society itself. The more those of us who support a free society based on personal choice strive to remove these abuses which provide the critics with their opportunities the better for us. Therefore, so far from resisting or criticising, I welcome any suggestion for a change in the law which would fasten responsibility more clearly upon the advertisers.
I also welcome the interesting and important recent development of bodies such as the Consumers Association which have been set up to promote criticisms 851 of advertised products. I imagine that everybody who believes in a free society welcomes this development. It used to be thought that it was dangerous to do this because of the risk of falling foul of the law of libel, and that we would need to make some changes in that law before it would be safe to criticise advertised products. Evidently that is not the case. If it had been, I would have been in favour of an alteration in the law of libel so as to permit such criticism.
The development of these consumer associations makes it clear that the processes of advertising can be controlled if the consumer uses his intelligence. So far from taking away personal responsibility and transferring it to the State this increasing process of criticising advertised products is stimulating personal responsibility and encouraging the ordinary citizen to do what, in a free society, he ought to do, namely, use his intelligence and critical judgment and apply a certain scepticism to the claims of advertisers—and also, I would add, to the claims of politicians. The more we can develop scepticism in a free society the more viable will it become. What we must do is to make people exercise choice—not abolish choice by transferring responsibility from the citizen to the State.
I also heartily applaud suggestions that advertised products should be submitted to criticism on television. I should also like to see them submitted to more criticism than they now receive in the popular Press. The more we bring advertising and advertised products into the arena of criticism and the more we can subject them to the processes of judgment and comparison which the common man is accustomed to use in making up his mind about politics, the better it will be for the common man and the free society.
I do not know whether this is a matter for legislation, or whether any legislation would get us very far in subjecting advertised products to critical scrutiny on television. I do not know whether the B.B.C. and commercial companies are free to do it, anyhow. The consumer could register his inclinations on the matter simply by approaching the com- 852 mercial companies. I imagine that they are as responsive to the views of their views as newspapers are to the opinions of their readers.
Such criticism is to be welcomed, and the more we get in our free society the better it will be. But this can be done in existing conditions; it does not require legislation or an inquiry. I cannot see, on the merits of the matter, that any case has been made out for the Motion.
§ 1.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Francis Noel-Baker (Swindon)
I start by warmly congratulating the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Curran) on three of the proposals he made. I heartily endorse them and hope that they will commend themselves to everyone. His first proposal was that there should be an inquiry into political propaganda and the methods used. Hon. Members on this side of the House would greatly welcome that, because we feel gravely disturbed—not only for party reasons—about the growing impact of commercial advertising on our politics and the use by the hon. Member's party, on a very large scale and at very high cost, of advertising preceding and during the last election.
§ Mr. Curran
I appreciate the hon. Member's courtesy in giving way. I do not know whether he is trying to score a party point. I was not trying to score a party point when I said that I would welcome an inquiry. I said that I would welcome an inquiry into the processes of persuasion, and I said that I did not want to take away a person's right to make up his mind in favour of product X or product Y.
I was not suggesting that as a means of scoring off the Labour Party, or exposing myself to a tit-for-tat retort from the Labour Party. We are here concerned not with a tit-for-tat point but with something more fundamental—namely, the techniques of persuasion. The more we know about them the better it will be for our free society. I do not believe that we shall get very far in this matter if we simply sink to the scoring of party points.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
I quite agree with what the hon. Member has said. That is the fourth point that I endorse. In 853 my speech I am not intending in any way to deal with this matter as a party question. My hon. Friend the Member for Sheflield, Hillsborough (Mr. Darling) has made clear the position of the Labour Party in this matter, and in my remarks I wish to approach the problem not from the Labour Party's point of view, but from the point of view of a member of the general public who is very much concerned with the wider implications of the question that we are discussing as well as with the details.
I also speak as a member of a non-political organisation, the Advertising Inquiry Council, with which the hon. Member will be familiar, of which two of his hon. Friends are officers, along with two Labour Members and another one from the Liberal Party, and which is presided over by Lord Fisher of Lambeth. The Council includes a retired general, a couple of bishops and some other people who, by no stretch of the imagination, could be described as Socialists. It is from the point of view of my connection with that non-party body that I wish to make my speech.
There is no question of party points being scored. I agree that an examination of the techniques used at elections and the way in which commercial propaganda is increasingly entering into our politics—as it is in the United States—is necessary, because this is a serious matter.
The second point made by the hon. Member which I endorse was the one in connection with consumer organisations. I warmly welcomed it. Both Shopper's Guide and Which have done an excellent job, and I agree heartily with their constructive approach to the qualities and performance of goods and services, and believe that this approach should be extended to television and also to sound broadcasting. I would very much like to see—if necessary, by a requirement of the Government—time being given by the B.B.C. to critical consumer programmes. They should be produced in a completely fair way. We could have the manufacturer and his advertising agent there, together with representatives of consumer organisations—people who would sing the praises of the product and others who would criticise it in the same programme.
854 I should like to see that sort of thing extended to commercial television. Time on commercial television could be devoted to a critical discussion not only of products and services, but of commercial advertising. This would be an extremely effective way of raising the standards of those advertisements.
I therefore hope that the hon. Member will accept the things that I have said about his speech in the spirit in which I have said them. I must go on to say, however, that I do not accept most of the rest of his remarks. I have spent a good deal of time, as a critic, in the presence of advertising businessmen during the last few years, and I am very familiar with the picture that is often painted of people like myself—long-haired Socialist crackpots who want to upset the free society in which we live and want to make Britain as drab as the Soviet Union.
I reject the whole of that. We in the Labour Party do not want to restrict freedom of choice. We want to extend it. We believe that it is being menaced by powerful interests which do not take sufficient account of the rights and the freedom of individuals. We want a wider range of choice, and we want to help people to be able to make that choice intelligently. I cannot accept the argument that some limitation on the excesses of advertising would necessarily mean increasing drabness in our life.
I have been to Sweden on a number of occasions; my wife happens to be Swedish. In Sweden, a Democratic Socialist Government, very much in keeping with the spirit of my own party, has been in power for nearly a generation. I do not think that anybody could suggest that the curbs placed upon advertising there have really increased the drabness of the country. Sweden is one of the gayest countries in the world, apart from its horrible climate. I do not think that a reasonable extension of safeguards in advertising need lead to drabness in our national life.
I make my criticisms of advertising accepting the fact that for many years the people of this country will be living in a mixed economy, in which there will be competition between private firms and firms under public ownership. I fully accept that advertising is a part of that process, and will continue to be 855 so, although I cannot approve many of the ways in which it is working at present.
The hon. Member and his hon. Friends are misjudging the temper of public opinion if they write off the mounting tide of criticism and indignation on this subject simply as a political gimmick, or something of that kind. Many people are feeling anxious about certain aspects of this problem, both inside and outside the industry. I will not bore the House with a great number of quotations of statements which leading advertising men have made in the last few months, very critical of what is going on inside their own industry.
I hope that the new body which it has been suggested should be set up will not be called the Advertising Standards Authority. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to say whether there have been discussions with the Advertising Association and other bodies about this proposal, and will also tell us whether the Government would approve the use of the title I have mentioned. The use of the word "authority" is open to many objections.
In discussing these proposals the industry has admitted that a great deal is wrong with it. I was very interested in the very thoughtful speech made by the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mr. Shepherd). What he said is a reflection of the genuine anxiety among people on both sides of politics, the advertising industry itself and also the general public. That is why I warmly welcome my hon. Friend's Motion.
§ Sir James Pitman (Bath)
Will the hon. Member read some of the recent comments to which he has referred? The House would like to judge to what extent they are all-embracing criticism of advertising.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
I am sure that that intervention is made in a helpful spirit. I do not want to take too long. I will read one or two.
My first is from a recent speech made by the chairman of the Society of Members of the Advertising Association, Mr. Cormack, the publicity manager of a big travel agency. He was addressing advertising men, and he said: 856Never before in the history of advertising has there been such a clamour from its critics. Ten years ago these detractors of our trade could only be found among the intellectual five per cent., but today they are to be found among all sections of the population. Control of advertising has become a political issue, and the grumblings of consumers have found a focus point in the publication of consumer journals. What has changed the attitude of so many people? Is it because some of us have forgotten that Truth in Advertising, the rallying cry of the 'twenties, … should still be the corner-stone of advertising practice in this country?I do not want to go on at length with this quotation, but Mr. Cormack, and many others like him, have made deep and serious criticisms. I shall gladly give this document to the hon. Member for Bath and others who wish to see it. I shall mention only one other criticism of this sort as I have been challenged. This one was in a speech by the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. MacArthur), who is also an executive of a leading American advertising agency.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
Yes, but the hon. Member is doing his best to provoke me into reading this strong statement by this advertising man. The answer was:Certainly, I have been horrified in recent years by overhearing this kind of talk by advertising men in the bars and clubs of the West End. … 'Eye-wash' is their curt definition of these and other activities. I've got a job to do they say, 'to sell somebody's goods. If I don't sell them I get the sack, or lose the account. Why should I waste my time on a lot of waffle which will get me nowhere?' This attitude, I am afraid, is reflected in their work. Their cynicism is being picked out by our critics as fresh ammunition in their fight against us.Mr. Cormack went on in the same vein making most serious criticisms and talking about the "violent debauchery of skills" of advertising men, and so on.
I hope that the hon. Member will accept that there is strong feeling in the industry itself that the standards are not high enough and that there is a need for new controls—
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
I believe that there is very strong feeling among the leaders of the industry that something rather drastic has to be done. This leads me 857 to the point, which has been made several times in the debate, that perhaps it would be safe to leave the policing of advertising to the advertisers themselves. This, I think, is what is implied by the new move to set up the body which has been referred to as the Advertising Standards Authority, a name so misleading that we very much hope it will not be used.
We are not satisfied that the present bodies set up by the industry are effective. If one looks at the so-called Consumer Committee of the Advertising Association, if one looks even at the Advertising Advisory Committee of the Independent Television Authority, one finds that advertising men are putting themselves in an impossible position by dominating bodies which nominally are supposed to be independent and trying to judge their own case in their own court.
If one takes the example of I.T.A.'s Advertising Advisory Committee one find that, although there are one or two genuinely independent people on it—there is a nominee from the Ministry of Health, and Mr. Diplock of the Retail Trading Standards Association, to whom tribute has been paid—but also a large number of advertising men and not a single representative of the consumers. We do not believe that bodies set up or controlled by the advertisers can ever be, or appear to be genuinely independent. We think they are putting themselves into an unfair position.
Before I leave the point about I.T.A., I appeal to the Minister to discuss with his colleagues the possibility that the Advertising Advisory Committee of I.T.A. should be strengthened by representatives of the consumers' organisations. The Consumers Association, the Consumer Advisory Council of the British Standards Institution and, I think it could be reasonably said, the Advertising, Inquiry Council, also have a fair claim. We do not think that bodies dominated by the advertisers can be truly independent.
I fully expect that hon. Members opposite will say about the committee set up by my party, that although it has on it a man whose independence could not possibly be questioned, its report will not be accepted by the general 858 public as an entirely independent expression of view. It has been sponsored by the Labour Party, and what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. Many will think that it is a reflection of Labour Party policy however hard it tries to be independent.
The same applies to bodies set up by the industry itself. I therefore hope that the result of all this discussion about how to maintain standards in advertising will be the creation of a genuinely independent national body, established by but not dependent on the Government. Then we could have advertising interests on one side and consumer interests on the other and a genuinely independent referee. Such a body could enforce standards, and so on.
I hope very much that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade will tell us that some such body will be set up. He has an alibi, because the Molony Committee is working at present. I hope that when he speaks he will tell us when the Molony Committee is expected to report because, some of us think that it has taken rather a long time over its report. That Committee however, has been dealing with only one small aspect of this problem. We think there is a very strong case for a far wider inquiry into many other aspects of this question.
§ Mr. Curran
Would the hon. Member give to the body which he suggests should be set up any kind of coercive powers by means of legislation and the right not only to say that something or other is good taste, but to enforce that view by some method? If so, how could it be any good?
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
My hon. Friend says that we are satisfied that the hon. Member for Uxbridge is not doing that.
I am sure that such a body would have to have some powers. If the hon. Member likes to call them coercive, I should say that what I mean is nothing he can use to terrify advertising interests. But an independent body of this kind 859 should have as one function that of enforcing the law. The law needs consolidating. I think that the hon. Member will agree that there are many measures some of which go back for about a hundred years which deal with some aspect or other of advertising and which need consolidating, and some need strengthening. The independent referee would have the duty of enforcing the law and where necessary proposing changes which should be made.
I think that there are some areas where coercion is necessary. I am sure the hon. Member would agree that there is coercion—if he wishes to use that word—over a wide range already. It is illegal to make claims about certain drugs and patent medicines and to advertise other products—habit-forming drugs, contraceptives and many products of a dangerous kind. There is need for coercion there, although the hon. Member would probably disagree with me about exactly what those products are. I should be in favour of extending the degree of control rather further than he would.
I happen to think—to take a concrete example if he wishes me to give one—that the millions of pounds spent on trying to persuade young people to smoke cigarettes is, in view of the medical evidence about the dangers of smoking, one of these cases. I very much hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will say something about that. I have been having correspondence with him and we have exchanged Questions and Answers in the House about tobacco and cigarette advertising on television. I think that he dropped something of a brick when he said that he was prepared to inquire into the matter of removing tobacco advertising from commercial television altogether? In fact, it is not his Department which can deal with that question, but it would be one for the Postmaster-General.
Whatever the interdepartmental position may be, this is a very serious matter on which many people think strongly. For reasons I do not fully understand I believe that there is an agreement between the distillers by which spirits are not advertised on commercial television. That is a very good thing and it would be a good thing if 860 alcohol generally was not advertised on television. The report of the Advertising Inquiry Council on this subject to which my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North (Mr. Edelman) referred was as scruplously objective as possible. I should like the hon. Member for Uxbridge to say whether he finds any partiality in that report, which showed conclusively that a very high proportion of the advertising by brewers and distillers is aimed at young people.
The same is true of tobacco and cigarette advertising, and a report is being prepared on that. The advertisers can claim that, if there were no such advertising to young people, that the sale of cigarettes would disappear in a few years' time. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to see what is the position over this. He said that he would inquire into it. What Ministers are dealing with it and what exchanges have they had with I.T.A.? Will he not agree that this is a class of advertising to which young persons should not be exposed on commercial television?
§ Mr. Rankin
Will my hon. Friend agree that there is a more insidious form of advertising cigarettes and tobacco than by direct advertisement? Rarely does one see an actor or actress in a play on television but out comes the inevitable cigarette which is lit, smoked, and stubbed out. Does my hon. Friend not agree that that act is a tremendous advertisement for cigarette smoking? I have actually seen people watching a play instinctively bring out cigarettes and join in the general smoking.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. This is one of the points which has been made in my correspondence with the Parliamentary Secretary. There have been a number of complaints to the Advertising Inquiry Council about excessive smoking by performers. One of the people who have been mentioned as excessive smokers, although I have not myself seen them doing it, has been Lord Boothby, and some of those associated with him, when they discuss, allegedly in a serious manner, political issues on commercial television. I believe that a word has been said to I.T.A. about this. I hope that it has said a word to the programme companies and that 861 they will say a word to the performers so that in future my hon. Friend will see slightly more self-discipline exercised by these people.
I very much hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will not repeat many of the very familiar arguments used by the hon. Member for Uxbridge and tell us that we are trying to destroy the free society in which we live, or give us slogans about how advertising stimulates competition and that it can safely be left in the hands of those running it.
On the question of the economics of advertising, I comment on what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Blyth (Mr. Milne) and underline the fact that there has been practically no independent research into the economics of advertising. There are many highly intelligent men researching into different aspects of the subject, such as Mr. Mark Abrahams and his colleagues, but they are working for advertising interests. It is a curious fact that very little of their work has been released to the public.
I am told privately that this is because when they do research into some aspect of the economic effects of advertising results come out in a way very unhelpful to advertisers and they are never released. There is a strong case for a detailed investigation by completely independent people into the economic effects of advertising. We in the Advertising Inquiry Council know of many cases in which advertising budgets have had exactly the opposite effect to that claimed. They have inflated the cost of the product. The hon. Member for Cheadle made a reference to medical advertising. I think that he was talking about the Beecham Group when he said that 50 per cent. of the costs was far too much to be spending on advertising and inevitably put up the price of the product.
I want to say a few words about the rôle which advertising is alleged to play in competition and to pick up points which the Parliamentary Secretary made to me on an Adjournment debate recently. He talked about competition among brands of cigarettes and asked whether I did not realise that the great expenditure on advertising was simply an essential part of free competition. But this is a misuse of language, for example in the 862 tobacco industry, where 97 per cent. of the industry is controlled through the Imperial Tobacco Company and through Messrs. Gallaher, by the same people, and where 80 per cent. of the products are indistinguishable. I defy any hon. Member to put a number of brands of cigarette into their mouths, one after another, when they are blindfold, and tell the difference.
The Parliamentary Secretary knows very well that this is not real competition. When a manufacturer finds that his cigarettes are not selling as well as he would like, to dress up some of them in a different package with a different name and to use a different advertising campaign is not competition. It cannot be called anything of the sort. Indeed, the way in which advertising has developed in this country in the last few years is having the opposite effect. It is squeezing out the small man and it is making competition impossible. It is accelerating the tendency towards oligopoly and monopoly.
If the Parliamentary Secretary wants more examples—I have given the example of tobacco—he should look at detergent and petrol advertising. How can he possibly claim that that advertising stimulates competition? It may have done so at times in the past and it may do so in some cases now, but there are many cases in which it has exactly the opposite effect.
When my hon. Friend the Member for Blyth moved the Motion he spoke about the malevolent influence of advertising on the Press and he was jeered by some hon. Members opposite and asked for his evidence. It is very difficult to produce evidence in public to show exactly how these pressures by advertising interests are working on the Press. I am interested in this subject. I am a member of the National Union of Journalists and have many friends in that profession, and I have talked privately to them and to newspaper editors. They have told me of case after case in which journalists have been ordered by their editors to write something or not to write something because of a tie-up with an advertising campaign.
I know of editors and newspaper proprietors who have mentioned things 863 which they cannot say and do because they dare not offend their advertisers. Many hon. Members know this to be true, but when I say to these journalists, "May I give you as evidence in the House of Commons or before the Molony Committee or the Royal Commission," I am told, "It is difficult enough to keep one's job in Fleet Street in view of the way in which newspapers are collapsing. If you cite me you will ruin me."
§ Mr. Lipton
My hon. Friend knows of a specific case in which pressure was brought to bear. An organisation wanted to advertise a film showing the relation between smoking and lung cancer and most of the daily newspapers refused to accept the advertisement.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. That is only one very small case. There are much bigger and more sinister aspects of this problem.
Hon. Members have talked about the popular Press. Oddly enough, it is not so much the popular Press who are victims of this insidious pressure from advertising as the so-called quality Press—papers with a smaller circulation. I was told by Mr. Cecil King, "Because of the huge circulation enjoyed by the Daily Mirror and the Sunday Pictorial, I can tell my advertisers to go to hell". He has people queuing up to get space in his newspapers and he can afford to offend his advertisers. What he must not offend is his readers.
The curious point is that the quality newspapers, such as the Sunday Times, the Sunday Telegraph, the Observer, the Guardian, The Times, are the papers which are more susceptible to these pressures than are the others. I cannot go into detail for the reasons which I have given, but they are more susceptible to the sinister pressures which are being exercised. If these pressures were investigated by some really independent inquiry and the facts were given, and the managements and journalists working on them could be persuaded not to be frightened about the future of their jobs, some very interesting things would be discovered.
I should like to say a word about the way in which Mr. Roy Thomson is handling his new acquisitions. I do not 864 think that it is unfair to say that he is turning some of his newspapers, including the Sunday Times, more into vehicles for advertising than anything else. There is the business of a colour supplement, making the paper bigger simply to accommodate more and more advertising, and he is allowing the advertisers more and more to dominate the editorial policy of his newspapers. The publishers are beginning to pick books which are discussed in the columns of the Sunday Times.
Anybody who knows anything about women's pages and who knows about the motoring columns understands what I mean. Has anybody read a motoring column which said that a particular motor car was no good? Do people know what happens to the columnists who advise readers to buy clothes from Marks and Spencer? Any working journalist knows what happens. This is of great importance for the Press. Perhaps, it is not of vital national interest if pressure is put by the fashion houses and by the motoring manufacturers on the Press, and if women's papers have to capitulate in this way, but there is a narrow frontier between this and, on the other hand, advertisers saying, "We do not like your policy on such-and-such an aspect of British domestic affairs", or, "We do not like your policy on Katanga and we shall withdraw our advertising unless you change it". Some newspaper managements, particularly of quality newspapers, would be very hard-pressed if that happend.
This is a great opportunity for the B.B.C. I think that it is fair to say that of all the mass media operating in this country the only one which is entirely free from pressure by vested interests, and from any suspicion of pressure by vested interests, is the B.B.C. I must, therefore, express some disappointment about the way in which the B.B.C. has hesitated about putting on consumer programmes. They have been going on about this for months. The B.B.C. has had to consult its lawyers and its Licence and its Charter and to ask the Government. I understand that again there is some delay.
I have a second criticism to make, and it arises precisely because it is so difficult to get this subject discussed in the Press and on commercial television, for 865 obvious reasons. The subject of advertising and the whole of the impact of the mass media on individuals is a subject which it is very difficult to get newspapers and anybody else to handle, and the only people able who do it freely are the B.B.C. But the B.B.C. is hesitating and discussing and consulting its lawyers. There was a suggestion some time ago that there should be a controversial broadcast discussion about advertising. Then it was put to the potential disputants, "Could you do this without mentioning any advertisement or product, because to mention them might be an infringement of the Charter?" This is ridiculous. I appeal to the Corporation to take a bolder line and to perform a vitally important public service which nobody else can perform.
§ Mr. Mayhew
My hon. Friend talks about the difficulty of discussing these matters on television. Southern Television recently issued an invitation to me to appear on its network and to discuss whatever I liked. I said that I should like to discuss television and advertising, and the invitation was withdrawn.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
I could quote many similar attempts which have been made to get these subjects discussed not only on commercial television, but in the Press, where people have said, "This is an important public issue and many people are worried about it. We should like to discuss it, but we dare not touch it because of the advertisers".
May I give a small example? My hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North referred to a copy of the excellent bulletin published by the Advertising Inquiry Council. We wondered whether we could get a competitive and cheaper printing tender for that bulletin and for other work, and we went to a printer whom I know very well and asked him to give us an estimate.
A week later we received a letter saying, "I have myself no views on this subject. We should be delighted to work for anybody, but 60 per cent. of our work is for advertisers, and if we publish material of this kind we shall be cutting our own throats. We are sorry, but we cannot do it." That is a small example of part of a very big problem.
866 I want to refer to one other aspect of the problem into which I hope that such an inquiry would look—and I do not think that it could be looked at in any other way. It is a very delicate subject touching on the duties, privileges and rights of Members of Parliament. It ought to be said. There is a growing anxiety about the activities, and the impact of the activities, of hon. Members connected with advertising and with public relations. They have grown in number. Between the last election and this, as we read in Mr. Andrew Roth's "Business Background of Members of Parliament", a document which I recommend to hon. Members who are interested in these subjects and to the general public, the advertising and public relations firms with which Members of Parliament were connected had grown very substantially, from 18 M.P.s in 1959, with two chairmanships and 22 directorships, to 27 M.P.s in 1961 with three top posts and 29 directorships.
This is a delicate subject, but both inside the House and outside people are becoming very worried about the connections between hon. Members and vested interests outside, particularly in advertising and public relations. There is even a problem about the declaration of interests. You, Mr. Speaker, gave a Ruling the other day at Question Time that our conventions do not require hon. Members to declare their interests at Question Time. I looked up the matter in Erskine May and looked at what the Clerks said about this. The position seems to be that a Member should declare his interest before he votes and should not vote on something in which he has a direct financial interest.
I do not know to what extent this practice has been observed, but I know that it is not the convention that hon. Members connected with advertising or public relations should give the names of their clients when they are speaking in the House. It seems to me very desirable that the public and the House as a whole should know about these connections.
This is a growing problem because of the scandalous way in which hon. Members are treated in respect of the facilities which they have for doing their job. It is impossible for a Member of 867 Parliament to keep a family, to provide for its future and to provide for a secretary, an office, typewriters, office machinery and all the other things he needs to do the job efficiently out of £1,750 a year less tax. This is driving hon. Members to seek money from outside. Some of them already have it and some do not. Even on the Government side of the House there are now very few hon. Members with no unearned income.
This means that many hon. Members have to find an outside job—and a job which does not take too long and which they can reconcile easily with being in the House and which does not conflict with their parliamentary duties. The latter qualification becomes more and more difficult. With the growth of lobbying and pressure groups, and public relations extending into all fields of commerce and public activity, it is a tremendous temptation, when someone from a public relations firm says to an hon. Member, "Look, old boy, how about joining the board? Or, if you do not like that, we will make you a consultant and you will earn some money. Perhaps nobody will know about it." This seems to me very dangerous, and I hope that it is one of the questions into which an independent inquiry will look.
I end by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Blyth on having moved the Motion. I hope that we shall have a constructive reply from the Parliamentary Secretary. He will be misjudging the feeling in the country if he does not accept the fact that there is growing apprehension about the way in which some aspects of advertising are exploiting, misleading and degrading the general public at the present time.
§ 2.34 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade (Mr. Niall Macpherson)
I hope that the House will allow me to intervene at this stage. This is not the occasion for a Government Front Bench speaker to wind up the debate, but it might be for the convenience of the House, all the same, if I intervened at this stage to express the Government's point of view on the Motion.
We have had an extremely interesting and very wide-ranging debate so far. 868 Perhaps the hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. F. Noel-Baker) ranged a little further than an inquiry into this matter would be likely to go, although the immense attention which he has paid to the whole question of consumer protection and advertising is such that naturally we all listen to what he says with attention and respect. If I may interject one personal observation, I hope that the hon. Member will not accuse me of dropping bricks every time I undertake to pursue a matter which he wishes me to pursue. This matter is still under consideration.
The extent of advertising in this country is something which well merits the attention of Parliament from time to time. As one hon. Member put it, we should examine this, because it affects us all. There are obvious dangers in advertising—for instance, dangers of undue influence and of misrepresentation. On the other hand, as my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Curran) said, I think it is true that most of us approach all advertising with a degree of healthy scepticism. We know that there are limits to which in a television flash—I say this particularly to the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Darling)—or even in thirty seconds, full information can be given about a product. Therefore, everybody who is contemplating buying a product will look at it on its merits and examine the claims made for it very carefully.
§ Mr. Macpherson
This is very largely bound up with the regulations made for the Television Authority. I shall come to this point later.
The debate has ranged both above the line and below the line, so to speak. The hon. Member for Coventry, North (Mr. Edelman) referred to subliminal advertising, particularly on television. I will deal with this point straight away. I am told that such advertising would be contrary to paragraph 1 of the Second Schedule to the Television Act, 1954, and that the use of this technique for advertising in the programmes of the I.T.A. would not be permitted. In passing, perhaps I should say that a committee of the Institute of the Practitioners in 869 Advertising has recommended in a report it made that it should be regarded as professionally unacceptable. That is how the matter of subliminal advertising stands.
The Motion calls on the Governmentto institute an independent inquiry to consider whether safeguards are necessary in the interests of the consumer publicand, if so, presumably what safeguards. The Motion notes, first, the industry's increasing power; secondly, its influence on our national life; and, thirdly, its effect on our economy.
I am sure that the whole House appreciated very much the way in which the hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Milne) introduced the debate. I thought that he made an extremely objective contribution, and it was a valuable start to the debate. He said that he did not intend to attack advertising as such, and that he had no intention in the Motion of interfering with freedom. He said that advertising must expect to be criticised. Indeed, that is no doubt why we have had two full-dress debates on advertising on two Fridays within just over three years. He quoted from the Conservative Political Centre's publication Choice, which said that any group which seeks to mould public opinion needs watching. I am sure we all do that, and to judge from the activities and Questions in the House this is something which the House is always watching and—what is probably much more important—which the advertising industry itself is well aware is being watched all the time.
I will now examine the reasons the hon. Gentleman gave for an inquiry. The amount of advertising is vast and is undoubtedly increasing. As the national income rises, it would be surprising if that were not so. It has been estimated by the Advertising Association that £453 million was spent on all forms of advertising in 1960. It is perhaps useful to compare that figure with £364 million spent in 1958 and £97 million in 1938. These figures are total figures—that is, they include classified advertisements, direct mail, point of sale display material, catalogues, sampling and various other sales aids, as well as display advertising. The figure for display advertising in 1960 is £243 million. These are very large sums and, on the face of them, they reflect a rapidly grow- 870 ing industry, but as a proportion of national income they do not display any particularly spectacular growth. In 1938 advertising expenditure represented 2 per cent. of our national income. In 1948, when there was rationing and a limited choice, it amounted to 1.3 per cent. In 1958 it was 2 per cent, and in 1960 it was 2.2 per cent.
It is obviously relevant to compare this with other countries in judging of the industry's increasing power. The present figures show that in the United States the proportion of advertising in relation to national income is 2.79 per cent., in Switzerland 2.2 per cent., in Canada 2.04 per cent., and in Germany 1.59 per cent. This last is an estimated figure. For the United States the figure is for 1959, and the figures for the other countries are for 1960. These figures suggest that our expenditure is comparable with those of other mature European economies and it shows signs of moving towards the level already established by the United States of America.
§ Mr. Mayhew
Is it not rather interesting to note that the figures suggest that countries like Germany and the Soviet Union which spend the smallest amount on advertising have the highest rate of increase of production?
§ Mr. Macpherson
I think I am right in saying that the German figure has been rapidly rising from a low figure. I was going on to say that, if the exceptionally low figures for France and Belgium, for which there may be a statistical reason, are left out of account, the differing expenditure of ourselves and the Australians and the Swiss seems to be about midway between that of the United States and that of countries such as the Scandinavian countries, West Germany and Japan. West Germany and Japan have a very rapid rate of increase of production. The Scandinavian countries are much the same as ourselves.
§ Mr. Rankin
I was about to intervene, but my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Mayhew) made the point I had intended to make. Has the Parliamentary Secretary any figures of advertising in the Soviet Union?
§ Mr. Macpherson
I agree, but I have no such figures and I doubt if they are available, at any rate in this country.
I am still not quite certain what the hon. Member meant by the power of advertising, but I hope to cover that in the course of my remarks. The amount spent is not necessarily related to the power of advertising practitioners, who in the main act as consultants to advertisers. I can only say that all professions have to start somewhere and the practitioners undoubtedly regard themselves as members of a profession, and I think a very worthy one. If the hon. Gentleman means the power of industry through its advertising activities, that is another matter. It is true that those who control television and national newspapers with a circulation of millions exercise immense power, but their power is to influence opinion in many ways, not only in the realm of goods, but in the realm of ideas. It is not specifically a power of the advertising industry. It is the power of the Press.
It is often said, and the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Darling) referred to it today, that the advertising industry, because it is part-paymaster of the Press, can dictate editorial policy. The hon. Member for Coventry, North referred to the extent to which it appears that the influence is exercised in supplements. Apart from a certain sympathy expressed with advertisers in supplements, I know of no evidence that this is so, but in any case it is well within the provisions of the Royal Commission which is at present inquiring into the finances of the Press, if it wishes to take it into account.
As no reference has so far been made to this Royal Commission. I think I should do well Ito refer the House to the terms of reference of the Commission. This matter was mentioned on 9th February, 1961. The terms of reference are:To examine the economic and financial factors affecting the production and sale of newspapers, magazines and other periodicals in the United Kingdom, including (a) manufacturing, printing, distribution and other costs; (b) efficiency of production; and (c) advertising and other revenue, including any revenue derived from interests in television; to consider whether these factors tend to diminish diversity of ownership and control on the num- 872 ber or variety of such publications, having regard to the importance, in the public interest, of the accurate presentation of news and the free expression of opinion; and to report.This inquiry is covering quite a large field of the source of the anxieties expressed by hon. Members. Similarly, the Pilkington Committee is investigating all aspects of radio broadcasting. I suggest to the House that there would be no point in duplicating an inquiry on this point.
§ Mr. F. Noel-Baker
Can the Parliamentary Secretary refresh the memory of the House about the dates on which these bodies are reporting? When does he expect the Molony Committee, the Pilkington Committee, and the Royal Commission to report?
§ Mr. Macpherson
The Molony Committee is expected to report in the second quarter of next year. The Pilkington Committee is expected to report in about next spring. No announcement has yet been made about when the Royal Commission expects to report.
As for the influence of advertising on our national life, I think that the hon. Member must have had television mainly in mind. Therefore, what I have just said about the Pilkington Committee also applies to that. I agree that, because of the amount of advertising expenditure, advertising has a wide influence on our national life, but, above all, I think that the hon. Gentleman had television in mind.
A good deal has been said about the effect of advertising on our economy. It is undeniable that advertising has a great effect, an effect which could be measured only if suddenly all advertising were withdrawn. The hon. Member for Hillsborough referred to the possibility of gauging the effect in particular industries of advertising in relation to the reduction of costs. I think that that would be so hypothetical that it would be very difficult indeed to reach very definite conclusions on it, but there can be no doubt at all that, if all advertising were withdrawn, we should be able to measure the effect of advertising on the economy over a period of time.
As everybody knows, without advertising it would be impossible to launch new products on the market and get the benefit of mass production from the point 873 of view of the lowering of costs, at least so long as the shopkeeper retained any choice as to what he should buy and stock. If, as my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge suggested, the State were to control distribution completely, there would be no point in advertising brands. The customer would have to take what was sent to the retailer and his choice would be limited to what was in the shop.
Some people think that too much money is spent on advertising what seem to them to be the wrong things. This point of view has been expressed today. It has been said that it would be much better for the economy if a great deal of this money was spent on different things, or perhaps not spent but saved, and a smaller proportion of the national product spent on advertising.
The question surely is who, in a free society, is to decide between the merits of particular goods and their claim to be advertised? In a sense, the speeches of hon. Gentlemen opposite have dealt with this point. It is comparatively easy to decide upon a list of goods which should riot be advertised, as the Independent Television Authority has done. The House will know "The Principles for Television Advertising," issued by the I.T.A. But who is to say how much money should be spent on each class of goods and services? Equally, who can say but those who offer the goods and services to the public?
I think that the three propositions which the House is invited to note do not, in themselves, provide an adequate reason for holding an inquiry, however true they may be. The Motion is almost identical to one moved by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Swindon on 21st November, 1958. I think the only difference is that that Motion called for an appointment of a Royal Commission, whereas the Motion before us now invites the Government to appoint an independent inquiry. Inquiries of this kind are normally set up to elicit information that is not otherwise available or not previously assembled with a view to deciding, on the basis of the facts discovered, whether, and, if so, what action is required.
Since advertising was last the subject of a full day's debate in the House about 874 three years ago, three inquiries, as I said, have been instituted. The first was directed in its terms to examining, among other things, advertising as a source of revenue for newspapers, magazines and other periodicals. The total revenue from those sources is about £214 million for 1960 for both classified and display advertisements. It will be for the Royal Commission to report if it has any views on the extent to which this expenditure affects a free expression of opinion.
The second is the Pilkington Committee on Broadcasting which isto propose what finance and other conditions should apply to the conduct of these services.Quite plainly, the Pilkington Committee is bound to be concerned with what at present is the main source of revenue for the programme companies operating under the I.T.A. In other words, television advertising is also bound to come under its scrutiny. The Committee expects to report in the spring, as I have said.
The third is the Molony Committee, which came in for a good deal of mention last Friday. That Committee, on consumer protection, as the hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillsborough said, does not cover the whole field, but the field it does cover is wider than the hon. Member for Swindon suggested. It is reviewing the working of legislation regarding merchandise marks and certification trade marks. The hon. Member for Hillsborough mentioned the possibility of amendment to the Merchandise Marks Act about which, he said, his hon. Friend the Member for Bilston (Mr. R. Edwards) is likely to introduce a Bill. We look forward to seeing that. We are certainly not bound to making no progress at all, but the House will accept that when a committee is expected to report one must look even more carefully at legislation to see how it might be likely to fit in in the future.
§ Mr. Darling
Naturally I cannot speak about the terms of the Bill which has not yet been published by my hon. Friend the Member for Bilston (Mr. R. Edwards), but I understand that it will be a simple Bill to extend present legislation to areas where it does not now extend. I do not know whether it will 875 include proposed amendments to the Merchandise Marks Act.
§ Mr. Macpherson
As I said, we look forward to seeing the Bill when it is published. The Molony Committee is bound to consider the question of the description applied to goods, whether by advertisers or at points of sale. These three inquiries will be covering a great part of the finance and practice of advertising—and the Press accounts for nearly one-half of the total costs of advertising. Television accounts for between one-fifth and one-sixth and those two together account for nearly two-thirds. In addition, the whole question of protecting the consumer against false descriptions and false claims is open to review by the Molony Committee.
The effect of this is twofold. First of all, I do not think it would be appropriate for me today to anticipate the findings of these bodies by going in detail into the adequacy or otherwise of the safeguards that already exist for the public. I intend to remind the House, however, of the safeguards there are, because it is important that hon. Members should know that they exist. Secondly, it would hardly make sense for the House to call on the Government to open an independent inquiry to cover virtually the same ground as is already being covered. Surely the right thing is first to study the three reports about which I have spoken to see if anything else needs to be found out or if there are any other details about which we need obtain advice.
I intend shortly to come to the question of Lord Reith's inquiry. The hon. Member for Swindon mentioned this subject, but I do not intend to be drawn into an examination of specific cases for which, the hon. Gentleman suggested, particular safeguards are required; such as tobacco advertisements on television and the risk of their encouraging children to smoke. Such a matter could be studied by a particular inquiry, if indeed on a matter of this kind it were thought necessary to obtain outside information.
If hon. Members are asking whether safeguards are necessary it is perhaps reasonable to consider the range of safeguards that already exist. First, in the 876 special field of medicine—and my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge referred to this—medicaments can be divided into two classes—the "ethical" proprietaries and the proprietaries advertised to the public. The ethical proprietaries form the bulk of proprietary medicines prescribed under the National Health Service. These are never advertised to the public but only to the medical and allied professions through advertisements in technical journals. The main object of the present arrangement is to reduce the danger of self-medication.
In the case of proprietaries advertised to the public, legislation prohibits the advertising of medicines in certain circumstances. There is the Pharmacy and Medicines Act, 1941, of which Sections 8 and 9 prohibit advertisements of remedies for the treatment of a number of diseases. The Cancer Act, 1939, prohibits advertisements of remedies for cancer, and the Venereal Diseases Act, 1917, prohibits advertisements relating to the treatment of venereal diseases.
Admittedly, the statutory prohibitions still leave quite a wide field open to public advertising. The manufacturers, together with the newspaper, periodical and advertising interests, have subscribed to a voluntary code of standards by which they can regulate advertisements outside the statutory limitations. This code lists sixty conditions in connection with the prohibition of advertisements. In addition, it sets out the general principles which should be followed in advertising medicines.
The code is such that its observance already eliminates all but the occasional unsuitable advertisement. Most manufacturers and their advertising agents abide by it. The code was also incorporated in the code of standards recommended by the Advertising Advisory Committee appointed by the Independent Television Authority whose recommendations were accepted as having binding force under the Television Act.
Outdoor advertising, although relatively small in relation to the total advertising expenditure, nevertheless accounted for £28 million in 1960. As the House knows, outdoor advertising is governed by regulations made in 1960 under powers conferred on the Ministry 877 of Housing and Local Government by Section 31 of the Town and Country Plannin3 Act, 1947. It is true that control may be exercised only in respect of the interests of amenity and public safety, but there is a wide measure of control.
Here too I would stress that voluntary control has played its part, for in 1958 my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government accepted an offer by the Outdoor Advertising Council that it should provide and implement a code of standards for voluntary adoption by wholesalers and shopkeepers to deal with the problem of the "clutter" of advertisements on many kinds of shops. This came into force in March, 1960, and is to be reviewed by my right hon. Friend in the spring of 1962. The Incorporated Society of British Advertisers set up a working committee of advertisers to do the practical work. As a result, no fewer than 40,000 signs have been removed from shops and business premises in rural areas, and a further 10,000 have been resited. This is a promising start and is again evidence of the value of voluntary and informal methods.
Then there are the safeguards written into the Television Act, 1954, and the Principles for Television Advertising published by the I.T.A., which are based on the recommendations of the statutory Advertising Advisory Committee. The list of classes and description of goods which must not be advertised and of the methods of advertising which are proscribed in the rules attached to the publication have been accepted by my right hon. Friend the Postmaster-General as far as they concern him.
As to newspapers, the Joint Copy Committee of the Newspaper Proprietors' Association and the Newspaper Society, the one representing the national and the other the provincial newspapers, makes recommendations to its members about the kind of advertisements which are not acceptable or should be accepted only if they satisfy certain conditions. As to whether this system is effective, perhaps I might take bait advertising leading to switch-selling as an example. As far as I can discover, that has been virtually eliminated from the mass circulation media. The Committee recommended among other things that agencies 878 placing advertisements must be required to give an undertaking that sufficient stocks of the article advertised are available to meet reasonable demand from readers responding to the advertisement. What is most significant perhaps is that the newspaper organisations themselves have suppressed this form of advertising because, as they point out, it wasan abuse, calculated to bring advertising into disrepute".That they certainly do not want.
Very soon after I came to the Board of Trade, just over twelve months ago, I asked representatives of newspapers and periodicals to come to see me and to review with me the question whether these arrangements were being worked by their members. I was assured that the rules were well understood and in general were being applied. Particular cases were examined, and it is true to say that there has been little trouble this year except from occasional "giveaway" publications issued by people who are not members of representative bodies. That represents the grey area between persuasion and deception to which the hon. Member for Hillsborough referred. This is an illustration of how a code can work.
Both the hon. Member for Coventry, North and the hon. Member for Hillsborough referred to another matter. The Advertisers' Association, together with such bodies as the Newspaper Proprietors Association and the Independent Television Companies Association are contemplating setting up an autonomous body to be known as the "Advertising Standard Authority". I understand that the intention is that the authority would be able to publish announcements about individual practices, and I stress that the body is intended to be autonomous. Perhaps the hon. Member for Hillsborough gave the impression that they were nearer bringing this body to fruition than they are, according to my information. He asked whether this had been discussed with the Department. It has, but I do not think that these organisations have yet reached the point where a code can be published.
§ Mr. F. Noel-Baker
Is the hon. Gentleman telling us that he has accepted that grossly misleading title? It is not an "authority" at all; it is 879 a private body. Has he not protested against the use of the word "authority" by a private body?
§ Mr. Macpherson
We have not got as far as that. As I understand it, we were contacted at an early stage in these arrangements. Certainly further discussions will go on. I will take note of what the hon. Gentleman says.
The Advertisers' Association is the meeting point of the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising and the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers. Neither the Institute nor the Society is comprehensive in the sense that all practitioners or all advertisers belong to it. They are both voluntary bodies; membership is voluntary and adherence to the rules is voluntary. But the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising claims to cover 80 per cent. of the volume of advertising placed.
From the advertisers' point of view, the main safeguard surely lies in their own self-interest. Quite apart from the possibility of criminal action under the Merchandise Marks Acts, it cannot be in the interests of advertisers to make claims for their products which are demonstrably false. What is the sense of spending a lot of money on claims which result not only in customers being dissatisfied and determined never to buy the manufacturer's products again, but in estranging wholesalers and retailers who distribute the product and causing them to decline to handle the product in future, especially as they, too, may become liable to criminal proceedings under the Merchandise Marks Acts?
It is not just a question, as the hon. Member for Blyth suggested, of an individual customer not placing an order again. He referred in particular to household products, which may be pretty expensive. But surely a manufacturer is not going to establish himself in business and spend a great deal of money equipping his factory and launching the product unless he himself has reasonable confidence in the product. The very fact that he is advertising and distributing it on a wide scale is a safeguard. Surely that must be so.
Of course, as a safeguard it is by no means 100 per cent. knaveproof, but what can be? What hon. Gentlemen 880 would like to see, I gather, is some tribunal to which complaints should be taken. But is it not better to allow the profession to control itself? After all, the barristers, the solicitors and the medical profession all have their own disciplinary bodies. The Government will certainly welcome and give every encouragement to the development of machinery for self-discipline in the advertising industry, for we think that that is the right course to follow. As I have shown, such machinery is being developed. I understand that the proposal is that it is being developed with the idea that it should be under an independent chairman. I am sure that it will go on being developed.
§ Mr. Shepherd
Is my right hon. Friend satisfied that, in the light of the acute conflict of interests here and the danger that arises that some small inquiry into one field of advertising may lead to undesirable effects on the rest of the profession, the voluntary method will work? Does not even the B.M.A. have independent members on its council?
§ Mr. Macpherson
What I am saying is that it is for the industry itself to develop its organisation. If it does that, I think that we can at this moment safely leave it to the industry to go forward on the line that it is at present suggesting. It is suggesting that it should have an independent chairman and also independent members.
I must say that I did not quite know what the hon. Gentleman meant by "an independent inquiry". After listening to the debate, I was still more fogged about it. If he means that the Government should set up a body of people with no experience of advertising, and possibly even a vague prejudice against it—my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge mentioned this—as so many people who do not have to earn their living by selling have, I think that that would not be likely to produce very fruitful results, even if such an inquiry were timely at present.
Certainly, I think the House must agree that many people are prejudiced. People are all for advertising when they want to see, for example, in the papers what play or cinema to go to or want to search the classified advertisements for second-hand washing machines or 881 motor cars, domestic helps or holiday addresses. But they resent goods being thrust upon their attention when they do not happen to want to buy them, whether the thrusting is done in the Press, on television, by posters or in any other way.
I want to refer to one other reason why we think it would not be timely to set up an inquiry, and it is the reason which the hon. Member for Hillsborough himself gave—that the Leader of the Opposition is proposing to set up one of his own. It may be that this inquiry will be able to get on with its work rather more quickly than an official inquiry, and I sometimes think that the hon. Member for Hillsborough seems very impatient in this matter.
§ Mr. Macpherson
Anything that Lord Reith does is stimulating. Personally, I am a great admirer of his literary style, and I look forward all the more to the report he will make. Admittedly, such a private inquiry does not have the advantage of the facilities available to an official inquiry, but I have no doubt that Lord Reith will have a great measure of co-operation. What I think is regrettable is fiat the hon. Members for Hillsborough who, in other respects, made such an admirable speech, implied that if the Government held a public inquiry, he would not accept that the members we should appoint would be independent, nor would he be prepared to accept their terms of reference. I may have misunderstood the hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. Darling
I am sure the hon. Gentleman did misunderstand me. What I think I said was that we are not certain that the membership of the official inquiry or its terms of reference would be entirely satisfactory to us. I did not say they would be unacceptable.
§ Mr. Macpherson
At any rate, that shows the very great difficulty into which we can get; because if the hon. Gentleman is prepared to reserve his position as to the terms of reference and membership of the Committee, it does not give the Reith Committee the best start for its acceptance on this side of the House. That is the only point I make about it. I could have wished that he had not made that reservation, because we certainly look forward to the report of the 882 Reith Committee, although it is bound to duplicate a certain amount of what is being done.
§ Mr. Darling
In view of the quite unobjectionable remarks which the hon. Gentleman has just made, may I make my position quite clear and say that I was arguing that my hon. Friend should not press his Motion? I was saying that, from his point of view and from our point of view, a Government inquiry might not be entirely satisfactory. I must make it clear to the Parliamentary Secretary that there was no intention of saying that we would not accept a Government inquiry. I think the hon. Gentleman makes far too much of it. If it would help him, I would withdraw that remark unreservedly.
§ Mr. Macpherson
I am much obliged to the hon. Gentleman. I am sure that in a debate of this sort, we do not want to get at cross-purposes on that point.
I should like to conclude my remarks by saying that it surely is in the interests of both capital and labour and of the whole nation that we should produce more. There is no point in producing more unless we sell more, and to sell more, either at home or abroad, we must advertise. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we should put as much pressure as we can on selling abroad. If hon. Members pressed for an inquiry because they felt that our advertising was inefficient, and if they had substantiated their case, the Government might have accepted the Motion, despite the three inquiries at present in train, but that is not what they have done. I have mentioned some safeguards which already exist, which I think it was desirable, for the record, to gather up in this debate. I do not say that my list is exhaustive, but it shows the extent to which the safeguards are being operated by voluntary control. The question is whether further safeguards are needed.
As I have said, we have one committee considering Press advertising revenue and its implications in Press economics, another considering safeguards for broadcasting, and the third specifically to consider what safeguards are desirable to prevent false and misleading claims. Surely that is enough to be going on with.
§ 3.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Marcus Lipton (Brixton)
I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, for having afforded me the opportunity of following the Parliamentary Secretary. What he said came as no surprise to those of us who had the good fortune to listen to him, but he will appreciate that even if the Motion is not carried, and the inquiry asked for is not instituted, the debate will have served a useful purpose in reminding the public of the various influences which are at work and whose sole object, in one way or another, is to condition the minds of members of the public in certain directions.
I have no objection to public relations firms and people of that kind getting to work, but the public is entitled to know who they are, why they are operating in that way and what organisation or group of interests is stimulating them into their activities. We had a very interesting revelation in the book by Professor Wilson on pressure groups, which indicated how commercial television was accepted by Parliament and came into operation.
The book's factual nature has never been challenged and it clearly demonstrated how, as a leading article in The Times pointed out, the energy of a small group of Conservative Members of Parliament, most of whom had close commercial or professional interests in commercial television, which they seldom took pains to conceal, resulted in the establishment of commercial television. The Times also pointed out how vulnerable was a Conservative Government to expert pressure from a section of its own supporters. We had a further example of how the Government can be subjected to pressure from a section of their supporters in the debate in the House yesterday on the situation in the Congo.
I remind the House how history is now repeating itself with the Pilkington Committee. We all remember the Popular Television Association, which was the subject of comment in Professor Wilson's book. Now the process has started all over again. We now have the National Broadcasting Development Committee, whose chairman is Lord Lloyd of Dolobran, whose general secretary is Mr. Ronald Sims, who was a Conservative candidate at the last General Elec- 884 tion, and whose committee consists of Lord Wootton, whose name is not unfamiliar in this connection, Mr. Mark Chapman Walker, a gentleman not unknown at the Conservative Central Office, and two hon. Members to whom, in accordance with normal courtesy, I have given notice that I would mention their names, but of whom neither is able to be here on account of other engagements—the hon. Member for Westbury (Sir R. Grimston) and the hon. and gallant Member for Down, South (Captain Orr). This committee did not emerge out of the thin air. The same old gang is operating it as operated the Popular Television Association. The N.B.D.C. is concentrating on recovering the former members of the P.T.A., who have been asked to join it.
We have been told, significantly, that a certain amount of publicity is being made in favour of a new fourth programme which will concentrate on education. It is interesting to note that, as long ago as last July, this committee decided to obtain the support of educational bodies. That was the first move in the scheme. It was also decided to keep in close touch with Lord Bess-borough's committee, which is closely associated with the letter which suddenly appeared in The Times of 30th November, announcing the birth of the Institute for Educational Television.
Among the signatories of that letter were Lord Bessborough, who is a director of Associated Television, and Sir Ivone Kirkpatrick, the paid chairman of the Independent Television Authority. I believe that all hon. Members have received the pamphlet "Sound Sense," of which I have a copy here. It comes from an address at 5, Carlos Place, Mayfair, London, W.1. The letter sent with it informs us that:A small group of independent-minded people have produced a pamphlet advocating allowing commercial sound radio, and I enclose a copy of this.What is going on at No. 5, Carlos Place? It is not only the address of the Institute for Educational Television, but also of the Independent Broadcasting Group—which produced this pamphlet and the plea for commercial sound radio.
§ Mr. Mayhew
Will my hon. Friend make clear the view which I believe 885 he holds, that the people who signed the letter to The Times have great standing and integrity—they included Earl Attlee, Lady Albemarle and Sir John Wolfenden—and that they were plainly acting without the slightest knowledge that they were taking part in a campaign which was a front for commercial broadcasting? Does he agree that, when they know the facts about this headquarters, they will dissociate themselves from the Institute?
§ Mr. Lipton
That may well be the case. I am quite sure that these very eminent people have been led right up the garden path in this proposal. It all sounds very innocent and straightforward on the face of it, but I am absolutely sure that they did not know of the commercial interests operating behind it. I am sure that they will probably reconsider their position in the light of the facts now being disclosed.
No. 5 Carlos Place is also the address of a public relations firm called C.S. Services Limited. I wondered why it was called C.S. Services Ltd. When I discovered that this firm acts for the Pye Radio Group, I realised that "C.S." stands for Mr. Charles Stanley, so there we are. This is the kind of thing which is going on.
What do these people want? They want a fourth service for education so that commercial television will probably get the third television programme. That is the whole idea. Why do they call it the fourth service? They do so because if the B.B.C. is operating one service, and there is a so-called educational nonparty non-commercial service provided on another band, and there is already commercial television, the third television programme will, of course, have to go to the commercial group. That is the whole idea, and that is the next move in this campaign which is going on to organise the future of our radio and television services to meet the desires of this group of people.
I just wanted to add that the National Broadcasting Development Committee operates from an address at 45, Great Peter Street, London, S.W.1. Only a day or two ago I received another pamphlet, as I expect a number of hon. Members did, called "Pay T.V. The only way to real alternative programmes". I have 886 no objection to "Pay T.V." Whoever is interested in the matter is entitled to hawk his wares.
This leaflet, which was sent to all hon. Members, was issued by British Telemeter Home Viewing Ltd. I do not know who these people are, but, on looking at the back of the pamphlet, I see that it has been prepared for British Telemeter Home Viewing Ltd. by Industrial Aids Ltd., 45, Great Peter Street, S.W.1—the same address as the National Broadcasting Development Committee.
I have not looked up the Companies Register, but it may be worth looking up some time. The connection between the National Broadcasting Development Committee and Industrial Aids Ltd. is that the latter is employed by the former to conduct its propaganda for a fee which I understand amounts to £1,260 a year. There is no disgrace in that, but it is interesting. The public should know these things. One begins to see how these various interlocking devices are operating to the advantage, not so much of the public, although that may be the screen or pretext, but to serve the interest of the same old gang who have been doing so well out of commercial television during the past few years.
That is really all that I wanted to say, because it is right that the public should know what is going on. It is right that hon. Members should know the source from which all this literature has suddenly begun to descend on us before the report of the Pilkington Committee is available. It is true that some of these organisations and pressure groups have submitted evidence to the Pilkington Committee, and that it will be carefully and judicially examined, but I object to the fact—and this is something to which my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Mayhew) referred—that it is so easy for honourable and disinterested public figures to be led up the garden path by this deceitful process of dissimulation which is now going on.
§ Mr. Mayhew
I do not know whether my hon. Friend is aware that the Bishop of Southwark was at one time a vice-president of the National Broadcasting Development Committee and that as soon as the facts about the Committee 887 were pointed out to him he immediately resigned.
§ Mr. Lipton
I do not quite know the relevance of another item which I saw in last night's Evening Standard. The heading read as follows:Tycoons Cut Stake in Commercial T.V.The City editor, apparently, wrote the article, which said:With their charter of operations coming up for review, some of the television tycoons seem to have been spreading their risks.The article went on:A look at the shareholders' register of leading T.V. companies reveals considerable reductions in … the … shareholdingsof Lord Bessborough, Mr. Prince Littler, Mr. Norman Collins, Mr. Val Parnell, Mr. Lew Grade—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Sir William Anstruther-Gray)
I wonder whether the hon. Member is not being led a little bit beyond the scope of this debate.
§ Mr. Lipton
That may well be, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I apologise to you if in my enthusiasm I have allowed myself to be led further into the exposure of these commercial operators than perhaps is permissible within the strict bounds of the Motion before the House, but what I have said will, I think, show that we are faced with a menace if important public issues are to be decided in this hole and corner fashion by secret groups about which the public nows nothing and whose source of income is not disclosed. That is why I am very glad to have had this opportunity of bringing these facts to the public notice.
§ 3.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Stratton Mills (Belfast, North)
I am always pleased to follow the hon. Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton) who always demonstrates how assiduously he reads, first, the evening newspapers and, secondly, how assiduously he examines the unsealed mail which arrives at the post office in the House for all hon. Members. I do not intend to follow the hon. Gentleman in his private witch-hunt, but wish merely to comment that I can think of few hon. Members who can get over the question of Parliamentary privilege as well as he can.
§ Mr. Stratton Mills
I add my congratulations to the hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Milne) for introducing the debate, which, I think, has been much enjoyed by hon. Members. I can claim to be one of the few among those who have taken part in the debate who have no interest in advertising, public relations or the Press.
I want to take up one of the points raised by the hon. Member for Coventry, North (Mr. Edelman), and I am sorry that he is not now present. The hon. Member for Blyth read a letter which had been sent to all doctors by the firm of Guinness. The hon. Member for Coventry asked the hon. Member for Blyth, who had said that the letter was from the managing director, who, in fact, had signed the letter. I wish to ask the hon. Member for Coventry, North why he wanted the signature to be given in the House. Was it because the implication of the hon. Member for Blyth was that this was a discreditable practice, and was the intervention of the hon. Member for Coventry, North a direct smear because the person who had signed the letter was a former hon. Member who sat on this side of the House?
I used the word "smear" and the hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. F. Noel-Baker) asked my reasons for doing so. I have now stated my reasons. This was the most disgraceful thing that the hon. Member for Coventry, North could have done. No other possible interpretation could be placed on his asking who signed the letter.
I am glad to see the hon. Member for Blyth in his place. I wanted to follow up some of the things he said in the debate about advertisers dictating to newspapers. That was one of the most sinister things suggested by hon. Members opposite. It was followed up most persuasively by the hon. Member for Swindon. Hon. Members opposite would have done better if, when they had been asked for evidence, they had not put forward the "I-met-a-man-in-the-pub-who-told-me-that" kind of argument. That is what they have said. They have produced no evidence. They have merely said that journalists have 889 been intimidated and stopped from coming forward.
I must criticise the action of the hon. Member for Swindon in criticising Mr. Roy Thomson of the Sunday Times. That newspaper is of a very high standard. The hon. Member for Swindon said that pressures were being put upon Sunday Times reviewers to review only certain books.
§ Mr. F. Noel-Baker
Everything that the hon. Member says is a tissue of distortion. I said nothing of the kind. I said that Mr. Roy Thomson was making his newspaper a vehicle for advertisers, and I cited the rôle that publishers were allowed to play in the selection of books mentioned in the Sunday Times. That is quite different from what the hon. Member said.
§ Mr. Stratton Mills
I can see no difference whatever between what I said and what the hon. Member has just repeated. He has merely served to underline the point which I have been making. This is yet another smear to add to those that he has already contributed to the debate.
I would have been interested to hear him deal in a little more detail with the question of lung cancer. Speaking as a non-smoker who considers those who smoke as being a little insane, I can tell him that if he were to argue that the facts of a report on lung cancer had been deliberately suppressed by the newspapers because of their advertising links I would have had a little more respect for his argument. But the argument that he has put forward today has been very fragile round the fringes, and I suggest that he knows it. For the record, he may be interested to know that Thomas Jefferson once said—although I do not place any great weight upon it:Advertisements contain the only truth to be relied upon in a newspaper.
§ Mr. F. Noel-Baker
The hon. Member has said that I could not produce any evidence that the advertisers were suppressing information about lung cancer. This point was referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton). The hon. Member knows that when the people interested in this matter, from a consumers' point of view, 890 tried to put posters up they were refused space by the poster interests, and that in all kinds of ways the advertisers have been putting pressure on the various media not to give information about lung cancer. Can the hon. Member give me one example of an advertiser's mentioning that such a danger exists?
§ Mr. Stratton Mills
The hon. Member has shifted his ground for the second time in this series of exchanges, and this fact will not have failed to be noticed by hon. Members. He went on to make the point that advertisers were putting pressure on to "puff" a product. That statement was also made by the hon. Member for Blyth. Again, no evidence was produced.
The hon. Member went on to make insidious suggestions. He carefully used the phrase "in future". He said that there might well come a stage, if present trends continued, in which advertisers would have a direct effect upon editorial policy. He brought forward no evidence to substantiate that point. Is he suggesting that the editor of The Times will be subjected to pressures by advertisers who might lose by Britain entering the Common Market, or that the editor of the Financial Times could be subjected to criticisms by copper producers who have a direct interest in British policy in Katanga?
§ Mr. Milne
It is unfortunate that an hon. Member should now bring up the type of argument that lowers the standard of debate. Up to now the debate has been remarkably good, both in its exchanges and its opinions. The question of the effect of Press advertising upon editorial opinion needs to be carefully watched. It is one which we consider might well be the subject of an inquiry. Dangers undoubtedly exist. If the hon. Member would refrain from referring to smears he would be doing a greater service to advertising.
§ Mr. Stratton Mills
The first part of the hon. Member's remarks was in the form of a sermon and the second part was in the form of attempting to substantiate his earlier argument, which he had failed to do and which he has failed to do now.
In a very good speech, my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Mr. Shepherd) 891 referred to some of the faults which are showing through in the advertising industry. As one who for a long time has been a member of the Consumers Association, I fully agree with him that some of the things which have beer, produced in the magazine Which? must make one extremely alarmed about certain things in the advertising industry. I rather regret that there has been this disagreement between us as there was substantial common ground on other points.
§ Mr. Dudley Williams (Exeter)
Is my hon. Friend saying that the hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. F. Noel-Baker) is connected with Which? the consumer protection magazine?
§ Mr. F. Noel-Baker
if the hon. Member for Swindon had heard the intervention he would be able to comment on it, but it seemed to be secret.
§ Mr. Dudley Williams
If I may be allowed to speak out loud, I said that I wondered whether the hon. Member for Swindon was connected with Which? the consumer protection magazine.
§ Mr. F. Noel-Baker
No, I am a regular reader of it and I admire it very much indeed, but that is so far as my connection with it goes.
§ Mr. Stratton Mills
I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Dudley Williams) misunderstood the point I was making.
I was saying that I agreed very much with the hon. Member for Blyth in stating that there were many bad parts of the advertising industry and many parts which, frankly, give room for alarm. That was the point I was trying to express, however inadequately. I think that the hon. Member quite rightly said that there were two main points about which there is ground for alarm The first is the question of over-advertising and the second is the amount of incorrect claim and puffing in advertisements.
892 I think that the hon. Member brought much evidence to the House which must have convinced us about over-advertising by petrol companies and soap companies, but I do not think that he followed the argument through logically to its end. How does one deal with over-advertising in a free society? This question has not been dealt with adequately in the debate. Are we to curtail advertising by various firms? Would that be the approach of the hon. Member? I think that this demonstrates the problems we have in dealing with this kind of subject. Unless we have a totalitarian régime it cannot be adequately dealt with.
I suggest, rather, that this is one example of where the checks and balances in a free society operate and where the good sense of the housewife, who has been driven almost to desperation by the activities of the soap companies, must in due time—I suggest that it is not far away—make its impact on those companies when they realise that their advertisements have brought them into public derision. We are approaching the same situation, but not to anything like the same degree, with the petrol companies.
The second ground for alarm was in the incorrect claims and general "puffing." Again, I agree with much that has been said. The hon. Member might have dealt with the whole question of the use of the words" guaranteed products." That is one of the difficulties creeping into advertising. A product is referred to as "guaranteed," but the word means virtually nothing in this context.
I turn to another side of the subject which I thought the hon. Member rather avoided. I got the impression when listening to him that he, like very many of his hon. Friends, has an instinctive political dislike of advertising because it is connected so closely with the general aims of a free society and free enterprise. He is quite entitled to that view and on that I have no quarrel with him. I merely say that, despite the reasonable speech of the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Darling), there seems to have been creeping into the debate from the other side of the House a transparent dislike of advertising. May I 893 remind hon. Members opposite of some information? I am told that a 3d. newspaper in this country costs 5d. to print and produce. If we add the editorial costs, distribution costs and the profit for the publishers, we find that the cost of the newspaper, but for advertising, would be between 8d. and 9d.
I have mentioned the very moderate speech of the hon. Member for Hillsborough. It seemed to me, as I think has become clear, that he was advising his side of the House not to support the Motion because he disliked the idea of an independent inquiry. I interrupted him to comment on the very curious appointment of Lord Reith to the chairmanship of the independent inquiry by the Labour Party. I said then that I had a great admiration for Lord Reith and for the B.B.C., but in the public mind he is very closely associated, and has been for over twenty years, with the whole shaping of the B.B.C.
Although I admire the B.B.C., can anyone doubt that it is very strictly anti-advertising in its whole conception? I cannot but think that this appointment has been a mistake. One could imagine a situation in which one of my right hon. Friends might appoint a vegetarian to chair a committee on the production of beef. That is the kind of situation to which the Leader of the Opposition has brought us. I suggest that he made a substantial error of judgment.
I want to deal briefly with the question of what method of further control there might be. It has been interesting to see more and more responsibility coming in on the part of newspaper proprietors. For example, they have been slow, but at least they have done something effective about that iniquitous practice of switch-selling. The Advertising Committee of the Independent Television Authority has set a good pattern of responsibility. For example, one of its pronouncements is that where a medical product is advertised in no circumstances can the person advertising it wear a white jacket or appear with a stethoscope, or anything like a stethoscope, which might give the impression to the public that he was a member of the medical profession or anything to do with it. This is important. I do not wish to overstate this, but it is relevant 894 in showing that both Independent Television and the newspaper proprietors are taking a responsibility in dealing with this subject.
What are the courses which can be taken to improve this industry? The hon. Member for Blyth suggested an independent inquiry, but this was rejected both by the Parliamentary Secretary and the hon. Member far Hillsborough. The hon. Member for Blyth showed many faults in advertising, but I suggest that it is not sufficient to demonstrate the need far an independent inquiry. He has shown the faults in the industry, but not the best method to deal with them
I want to deal with two other matters, the first being the reference to a system of absolute control over all advertisements. I do not accept this system, but merely put forward the arguments. This is the system of a semi-totalitarian State, for such a system of absolute control would mean that all advertisements would have to be checked before being placed on television or in the Press. How would they be checked? They would have to be checked, first, for good taste and also as to the accuracy of the pronouncements in them. If we accept that they would have to be checked for accuracy, there would have to be an independent consumers' report on each article, but this raises the problem of over-advertising and shows the hopeless dilemma which would arise under a system of complete control.
The second suggestion is more closely on the lines of that put forward by the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising which has proposed a system of voluntary control called the Advertising Standards Authority. This has been criticised, I think unfairly, by some hon. Members. The hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. F. Noel-Baker) referred to this. They seem to have missed the point. The Institute has submitted a memorandum to the Molony Committee. In paragraph 12 the memorandum reads:We do not know whether there would have to be any statutory authority to set up such a system of voluntary control.
§ Mr. F. Noel-Baker
What is the memorandum which the hon. Member is quoting? Is it available to other hon. Members?
§ Mr. Stratton Mills
This is part of a memorandum prepared by the Institute dealing with the whole question of the Advertising Standards Authority. I may have made an error, to which the hon. Member drew my attention, in quoting directly from it at this stage, as it has not yet been published.
§ Mr. F. Noel-Baker
Perhaps the hon. Member will tell us how it happens that he is getting this material. Would it be unfair to ask whether he has any interest to declare and how it is that he is in such close touch with this body when we are not?
§ Mr. Stratton Mills
I made it quite clear at the beginning of my speech, if the hon. Member had been here—or if he had been listening if he were here—that I have absolutely no financial interest in any advertising body or any Press body.
§ Mr. Dudley Williams
May I point out to the hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. F. Noel-Baker) that this document is regularly available from the Institute and that any hon. Member who wanted it could get it by making a telephone call.
§ Mr. Stratton Mills
It would be unfortunate if the hon. Member for Swindon succeeded in diverting me from my main point, which was to refer to the fact that in the ideas which have been put forward on the Advertising Standards Authority the point has been mentioned that it may be necessary for this to be a statutory body. I think that there is much force in this view. I do not take the view that the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising should set up a strictly self-contained policing body, and I agree with what has been said on the subject in the House. I do not think that it is possible strictly to compare this kind of body with a doctors' professional group or a solicitors' professional group, and I believe that it would be necessary to go further.
But if this is to be a statutory body it must be clear that the concept of the Press Council should not be followed, where we have simply people connected with the business. I suggest that there is a very strong case to be made out for independent members of such a body 896 and perhaps for members from the Consumers Association. I think that the case for that has been clearly made out this afternoon.
It is also important that there should be some form of sanction contained in this body and that it should have some degree of either complete or qualified privilege, and that it should join in arranging certain codes of practice and should have certain substantial sanctions.
§ Mr. F. Noel-Baker
As the hon. Member continues to quote from this document about which we know very little and which apparently has been issued by the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising, may I ask him to be frank with the House and to tell us exactly what the document is, who is responsible for it and how it came into his possession?
§ Mr. Stratton Mills
If the hon. Member were to make the tremendous effort suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Dudley Williams) and go out to a telephone box and ring up, they would gladly supply him with a copy?
§ Mr. Stratton Mills
The Institute of Practitioners in Advertising. It is part of its evidence to the Molony Committee.
§ Mr. Rankin
As the hon. Gentleman is dealing with advertising, will he not take the House into his confidence and tell hon. Members that he is advertising the fact that he has just been put up to talk the Motion out?
§ Mr. Stratton Mills
I must confess that I completely fail to understand the relevance of that remark. I do not know whether any of my hon. Friends can explain it to me.
§ Mr. Stratton Mills
The remark is completely wasted on my hon. Friends. They fail to understand it, as I do.
The point which is made and which must be clearly made is that many people on both sides of the House are alarmed 897 about this problem. Many hon. Members on both side are prepared to go further than merely having an internal policing body inside the advertising industry. Many hon. Members on both sides are fully prepared to see some form of statutory body set up to control the advertising industry as to the standards of its advertisements, both in the Press and on television. There can be very little doubt that the need for this has been established most convincingly.
If 2 per cent. of our national income goes on advertising, it is important to ensure that it is spent in the best possible way and that there is no wastage as regards the type or quality of advertising which could deceive the consumer as to the articles he is buying.
I end with this plea. I hope that my hon. Friend—
§ It being Four o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.